Family Pets (And Lack Thereof)

Let me start by sharing something both honest and somewhat controversial. I’m not an animal lover.

I never really have been. Even as a young child. I have always had some sort of mild affection/indifference to the furry community. Don’t get me wrong, I have massive amounts of both respect and empathy for all animals and I would never ever see any harm done to a living creature (I can’t even bear insects being killed), I’ve just never really cooed at a pet like I would coo at a baby. And I’ve always felt somewhat awkward around them (pets not babies).

Growing up, I had the occasional goldfish (often won in a cruel seeming plastic bag at a school fete). But with my Dad sporting the same kind of lack of enthusiasm for owning a pet that I do, my poor Mother had to wait for a long, long time before her and Dad finally agreed on getting a dog. I think the fact that two of three kids were grown and out of the house contributed to both my Mum’s increasing need and my Dad’s yielding resolve. The now much loved family pet, a Bichon Frise by the name of Roxie has well established herself into the fold and does hold a special place in my heart.

When it comes, however, to my own family unit of three… I can’t think of many things I would want less than to add a pet into the mix. Luckily for me, Gavin is of a similar mindset so we’re pretty decided. I take off my hat to those of you who run a household with multiple kids and/or pets. The devotion and thought that must require is beyond anything I think I could muster.

I think what it boils down to is that I truly believe that you should only ever own a pet if you can give it tons of love, care, time and attention. For their entire life. And I don’t feel like I could devote that much of all of the above to a pet, no matter how adorable. I struggle at times to give all that I have to a little human. So therefore, I don’t see myself as a good candidate for pet motherhood.

There is also the fact that Gavin and I like to be light on our feet and make quick changes and travel plans. All of which becomes more difficult when you can’t just strap every family member into a seat on a plane. I know of so many friends who have had to swallow the price of kennels/catteries for holidays and spend the entire last week dying to get home to their poor four legged pal.

So after harping on about why I don’t want a pet, let me tell you what does cause me a little bit of inner turmoil. I know how awesome pets are for kids. We spent a couple of months back in my Mum’s house after returning from Oz and Ethan just loved Roxie. He played with her, cuddled her and loved to feed her treats. They ran around together and were often found sitting right next to each other (if not on top of each other).

And if Ethan is set to be an only child, am I robbing him of some kind of special relationship with a furry friend?
Sometimes I feel it would be good for him to have that companionship, but if I’m really honest with myself, I’d rather have another baby than a cat or a dog (and that’s saying something)!

A couple of days ago, I also came home to an inconsolable Ethan crying “RILEY ATE HALF OF MY STICK WAAAAA!” after taking the neighbours dog for a walk. And because I love chewing on the topic of nature vs nurture, I wonder… Are we all born with an inclination to be either animal lovers (like some) or animal appreciators (like me)?

Where on the spectrum of animal loving do you and your family fall?
Did you get your family pet before or after kids?
Or are there any fellow petless-by-choice families out there?

Image by We Are // The Clarkes.

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Naomi can’t decide which she loves more: adventuring with her boys or being left alone in a luxurious bath with a great book.
Follow Naomi on Instagram @naomiliddell

32 Comments. Leave new

Ahh this post is so timely, Naomi! I think you’ve made a good decision for your family, pets are a huge commitment, and you’ve got to really love them to put up with the s**t hahah.
We are absolute animal lovers in this house, my husband and I grew up with dogs and actually, since our second pooch together passed away a couple of years ago, this is longest either of us have ever lived without a pet 😢 A large part of this was getting over two dogs which broke our hearts with untimely deaths. Yep, we loved them that much.
Bertie is absolutely desperate for a dog of our own, and to be honest we always feel that home doesn’t feel complete with the sound of paws on the floor (and so much more). We also really want her to grow up with a dog, they’re the ultimate childhood companion.
BUT, equally saying that we felt when we did have a dog life was just always a little more complicated. You couldn’t just go out for the entire day on a whim and leave them behind without a plan for toilet breaks and walks in place. Holidays meant finding someone to take care of them…. That’s without mentioning food costs, toilet training, insurance, vets bills,
Now seems like a great time for us to get a dog – I work from home 3 days a week and am around the rest of the time, my husband is in a different job which would allow for the dog to go to work with him, Bertie is older and therefore we have more capacity to train/care for a puppy, but there’s still something holding us back…

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Oh Laura, I’m so sorry to hear about your pooch(es)! I can totally understand how making a leap to get another pet would be hard. Maybe, like bringing another baby into a house, you just need to wait until you’re emotionally ready to do it all over again!

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I wouldn’t worry too much about robbing Ethan of some idealistic notion of a pet ownership idyll. Fern (2.5) has grown up with Olive, our soft, loveable ever-tolerant basset hound and is entirely indifferent to her. They co-exist relatively harmoniously but there’s no bond or special affection whatsoever.

In a way, it’s a bit of a disappointment, I’d love them to be best pals but I remind myself that really, it’s ideal. There’s no dramas when we leave Olive at the dogsitters etc and I’d much rather disinterested neutrality than intense emotion (there’s enough of that with a toddler as it is!) and remind myself to feel fortunate they at least rub along together without issue as you never really know how a pet-child relationship will ever work out and I know people who’ve had to give up much loved cats and dogs because they couldn’t get it to work out with an infant (mainly allergy-related).

The biggest benefit of having grown up living with a dog that I can see is that Fern has no gripping irrational fear and knows how to behave sensibly around them. Being a dog owner I encounter so many children who react violently when they encounter a dog and it can’t be healthy to live with that kind of fear on a daily basis. Sure it’s wise to be wary if unknown dogs but I think it’s a real problem if a child has developed an irrational over-anxiousness about them, dogs are everywhere, they can’t be avoided so it’s going to be a constant issue if your child is screaming and terrified every time they see one (which is surprisingly often in my experience – and that’s as the owner of a gentle, comical-looking hound).

Another huge benefit is the hoovering capabilities of a canine which cannot be underestimated through and beyond. We really miss this when Olive is not home for whatever reason. I look under the high chair and am amazed at the mess, usually any dropped morsel is snaffled before I can say “pass the antibacterial wipes”. I also believe growing up with a dog has contributed to Fern’s excellent immune system.

I can’t finish without mentioning the value Olive brought to me as a brand new parent. When this screaming baby just seemed to want to relentlessly drain me of my strength and energy and give very little back, I had a constant, furry unconditionally loving companion in Olive. She gave me a reason to get outside every day, regardless of the weather or how tired I was which did me such good.

I admire people who decide not to have a pet because they are realistic about how much time and care they can give. I wish more people would consider that before giving in to a child’s whimsical wants. It’s really hard giving the best possible care to a pet while keeping a small human alive but for me, so worth it.

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* cannot be underestimated through weaning.

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This is so interesting as my first child has the irrational fear and as much as I know it’s a developmental stage, it’s really hard to deal with and a bit embarrassing upon arriving at a new house. We are considering a cat in the not too distant future in a part bid to help her be around pets. Unfortunately a close to home tragic incident has totally put me off having a dog at this stage. – one day maybe when mine are older. I love hearing about your girl’s co existence with a pet as I do think sometimes it would be nice for this best friend relationship to be had. Plus I read Davina’s book and she said, kids help with pets never so don’t get one on the basis that it will teach them responsibility!! Ha! Loved that pearl. Remember it well with my dad hassling me to help clean out our rabbits!!

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If it makes you feel any better Sophie… I had an irrational fear when I was a kid, but it passed when I got to late primary age. I think it’s just something that will pass with time.

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Philippa, this was just such a hilarious/much needed comment. My Mum’s dog Roxie was the best hoover EVER. Until we found out that she was allergic to most of the things she was hoovering (rice and such) 🙈

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Two words. Feral. Cats.

I’m allergic, my husband is the kind of man crazy cat ladies dream of. He’s some kind of freaky cat whisperer. So for his 30th I got in touch with Cats Protection and they pronounced our random selection of outbuildings acceptable habitat for two feral kittens aged about 7 months. Enter the very scared and not friendly Bollo and Bella. Two and a half years on they are so lovely- come for a stroke and a cuddle at their teatime, put up with toddler affection, slink around looking aesthetically pissed off and commit mice murder on a big scale. And they don’t ask for more than a bowl of food, some water, and a skanky old camp chair with a pillow on it (they have a cat bed. They don’t use it) in the shed. If we go away our neighbour feeds them and we feed hers. Ultimate low maintenance pets.

Ditto chickens. A bit more work, but you get free eggs. Again, rescue ones for that extra wellbeing.

Ethan will cope. And you can always get a hamster when he’s a teen. As Philippa says, Silvia likes the animals we have but is pretty meh about them. For her, they’re just there. And we have serious conversations about how unkind it is to chase the chickens but she does it every time 🙄

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Lucy, we actually have got a bit of a plan to get some chickens when we buy a house. And bees. But more for the produce than the pet owning.

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Morning! I’m with you Naomi, I am not an animal lover. We never had anything furry growing up as my Mum has an alergy. We had gold fish but that was it. My husband loves cats and dogs and so does my 3 year old as his Grandparents have 3 cats. I am dreading the stage when he starts asking for a pet. I can’t think of anything worse!! Maybe a tortoise?!

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Maybe you could have an ‘allergy’ too? 😏

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Haha I think we’re definitely in the special relationship camp! Elle describes Drake as her brother and literally drags him around by his tail, puts him to bed under our duvet, and feeds him from her plate 🙈
Growing up I wasn’t an animal lover at all, but Matt is also some sort of animal whisperer and loves all creatures great and small. When we moved to Cornwall I came round to the idea of having a dog as we live near many lovely walks and it’s such a dog friendly place here. The only time I really struggle is if the weather is hideous and I’ve got to drag us all out in our waterproofs. Walking the dog definitely kept me from loosing my mind during the new born phase though, was really useful during weaning like Philippa says (furry vacuum cleaner) and now when Matt’s away I appreciate the company in the evenings (appreciate I sound like a little old lady). Drake is the best guard dog too and so protective over Elle. I’m not going to lie though, sometimes the bodily fluids from a child and a dog can be 😷😷😷 and I’ve found I’ve definitely got a stronger stomach now. We’re lucky in that if we need to leave Drake for a while we have a couple of neighbours who love looking after him, and if he needs an overnight, Matt’s mum has dogs so is usually more than happy to add another one to her canine crew. And finally – as you can probably tell, I’m now a fully converted dog lover, there’s nothing more lovely than coming home to a bouncy toddler and dog desperate to give you a cuddle 🐶💕
So I guess, it depends on your situation, I don’t think that a child would seriously miss out on life experiences from not having a dog, but it certainly does add some lovely benefits and heart melting moments! Hopefully Ethan can look after Roxie from time to time, then you have the best of both worlds xxxxx

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I love that Drake is so protective of Elle! How cute. I definitely think we’ve got the best of both worlds situation. Plus, Ethan see’s other kids pets as a total novelty.

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we have a 3 year old lab and a 2 year old toddler. Growing up with dogs meant a dog of my own was always going to happen at some point. Husband grew up without dogs and slightly nervous of them but seeing a wave of 8 week old black lab puppies flowing into a house when we were collecting one for my dad a few years back had a little bit of a melty effect on him….not that he would ever admit it. We both work standard office jobs but I have the huge advantage of taking the dog to work with me every day where she is generally loved by all and fed sneaky biscuits by a few.

Having a dog around with a new baby had 2 huge benefits for me. The first was that I had to go out everyday and second, I do believe that dogs can help relieve stress so I’m sure she helped keep me calm on some of the tougher days.

However dogs and kids together is extra work for sure. No matter how well behaved you think your dog is, I don’t think dogs and kids should ever be left unsupervised. We have let them interact from early days and that has grown over the years. And it’s the child that needs more interruption when ‘play’ has gotten too much for the dog and she wants a break.

And last thing to say, is to echo a certain instagrammer’s story from last night. Kids need to be taught that it’s not ok to pet any dog. With dogs they know and the owners permission first, of course. But if you don’t know that doggy’s name and mum/dad then leave that doggy be.

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I didn’t see this Instagram story from last night but I wholeheartedly agree!

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I wasn’t particularly an animal person as a child and I was absolutely terrified of dogs. To the extent I would climb up my sister’s back and cross the road if one came within even 100m distance. Fast forward to meeting my husband who grew up on a farm with a million dogs. We now have two cats and a big black lab. They are completely the loves of my two year olds life. Cats and dog came first but they have accepted her as one of their own. She’s already in charge of feeding the cats everyday and I love nothing more than seeing her run alongside the dog playing fetch, or when she uses the cat as a pillow to watch the tv. I’m so glad she won’t grow up petrified like I was. It’s a massive time commitment, but I’d say worth it.

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Rhiannon, I’m so happy you were able to get over your fear. Sounds like a pretty big turnaround!

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We’re in the best friends camp, too. My husband grew up with dogs and I spent my whole childhood begging for one. So now we have three and a cat. They’re great with the boy, so gentle and affectionate and he absolutely loves them.

I do agree with all that’s been said above, I think having to walk the dogs every day really helped when he was a tiny baby, equally the unconditional love and cuddles, the positive effect on his immunity and (hopefully) growing up with a better understanding of animals and how tonbehave around them.

On the other hand, they are hard work (the cat less so!), you can guarantee that one of them will yap when you finally got the baby to sleep – and they’re not cheap. Even with pet insurance, vet costs add up quickly, plus food, toys etc.

That said, for us, it’s definitely worth it, but I do wish more people were as responsible as you Naomi and not get a pet if they’re not sure it’s for them!

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Oh man, its the vets bills I hear about that make me feel a bit sick.
But also, I think if we just make sure that Ethan gets good exposure to animals and we teach him how to treat them, it would be ok.

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I think I’m in the ‘indifferent’ camp!! I grew up with pets – dogs, cat, hamster etc etc and we do have a cat now but I’m just not sure how much of an animal lover I am really. Cat’s are fine and I like dogs but just wouldn’t want my own. It feels too much of a tie in some ways and at least I know Humphrey is fine being left for the day and if we go away someone can pop round and feed him. Molly on the other hand ADORES animals. She would have every pet going if she could and spends the whole time playing with my family’s dogs/rabbits and so on. I feel one day I may need to relent and let her have a dog but perhaps once I have a big utility to keep them in after muddy walks!!! xx

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I love that your cat is called Humphrey!! And oh God, I’d never even entertained the thought of having to wash a dog after a muddy walk 🙈

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Camp ‘no animals’ here.

Inability to pack up and go away on a whim and also, no matter how hard you try, and no matter how in denial you are as a dog owner, dog hair is a menace. MIL has a dog and a good cleaner three times a week so it’s a CLEAN house but I still regularly pick up dog hair from a crawling toddlers mouth. Urgh.

I think they do bond with them when they visit, like you’ve described, but they lose their novelty.

We’re planning on rehousing chickens when we move but they aren’t pets.

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Also the ‘hoovering’ ability of a canine can be solved with the purchase of a hand held dyson.

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Yeah, I’m not so keen on the old dog hair covered clothes. Plus I wear quite a bit of black so, yeah… Nah…

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We have a dog who is now 11 and we’ve had since a puppy. He’s always been a bit of a pain- highly disobedient and entirely ruled by his stomach so just steals food ALL the time! He’s also massive so he can get into everything and needs a lot of time and exercise! A lovable rogue if you will!

We have 3 kids under 5 and I have to say that since they came along (and especially the 9 months since we became a 5!) the dog has felt like the step too far! I already feel like I need eyes in the back of my head and watching out for the dog not pinching food from the kids or stoping the baby pouring his water bowl over his head or being stressed about the dog hairs everywhere now we have a crawling baby is all a massive stress in a cauldron of madness anyway!

We love old stan, he’s part of our family and we’ve made that commitment to him but I have to say, when he goes to the big dog park in the sky, we won’t be replacing him anytime soon! It’s a great way to teach the kids about caring for something and a good way to exercise but I think we’ll wait until the kids are a good bit older before going again! X

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I so appreciate your honesty here. Stan reminds me of the dog from Marley and Me. A loveable rogue.

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I don’t have kids and my dog is my baby (yes, I’m one of those crazy dog ladies!) and I can’t imagine not having a dog around. I have grown up with dogs and they were all part of the family. I had my dog from a 9 week old pup and she has been amazing – training was a breeze and she’s happy to go along with what we do. But I can see how hard it could be to have a younger dog with children as they do need a lot of love and care too.

My husband and I are currently looking into getting a lizard! I never thought I would want to keep reptiles bu the more we meet the more I love them. The only problem is finding somewhere for a vivarium to go in our tiny terraced house.

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Is it weird that I would sooner warm to reptiles as pets than mammals?
I love that you’re getting a lizard. They’re pretty cute.

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So interesting! I think dogs may be the divisive pet actually as they require so much time. Growing up my dad was a vet, so everyone expected us to have loads of animals, but my mother hates animals after an unfortunate incident when she was little. So I eventually got a cat (well, a series of cats, we lived near a main road…) and they were wonderful. I was an only child living in the countryside with no friends living nearby. The cat was my friend, no joke. Sure, we didn’t have to pay any vet bills and my dad knew exactly what to do at all times so it was super easy and not expensive, but I have to say my memories are only positive and I would love to get a cat some day (plus the ultimate endorsement is that my mother adored the cats too, so they can’t have been too bad!).

My husband and I work full time, we don’t have time to look after an animal that needs actual maintenance. I fully believe in outdoor cats, as mine were, so once we move to the country then a cat that can be independent but come in for cuddles and food is the ideal option for me. And as others have said, friendly neighbours will often help when you are away for low-maintenance pets. That being said, I don’t think pets are essential for children. A well-loved pet in a family that has the time and knowledge to look after them is a lovely thing, but certainly not the be all and end all.

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Annie that’s pretty cool that your dad was a vet. I also have some friends that swear by outdoor cats as low-maintenance pets.

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Also…with mention of chickens….they’re quite hard work too!!! I’ve got some and love them dearly, well I enjoy eggs and the cycle it brings to our lives. Again, my kids are indifferent and would rather sit in at nanny’s house having lollies whilst I do them every day! Again, eldest pretty petrified of them.
Just did the massive once yearly clean out of their shed, and that was a good few hours and the dust was insane. Then daily- they take a good ten mins, weekly a good 40 min- 1 hour poop boxes clear out. Plus some rodent management and occasional mud ball off claw maintenance. So think long and hard about these too!! But fresh eggs are nice and like people say about dogs, it gets me out in nature every day. Xx

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Sophie, this is great! Thank you! I just read it to my husband to see if he was up for that kind of maintenance. Definitely something to consider.

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