Children love their pets -- and for good reason. Creatures large and small teach, delight, and offer a special kind of companionship.
Everyone knows that kids love animals. A quick safari through your child's bedroom will remind you just how densely imaginary critters populate the storybooks, movies, music, toys, decor, and clothes of childhood. In real life, the amount of money we spend on our pets has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, rising to more than $38 billion, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. That figure dwarfs the toy business ($23 billion) and candy industry ($24 billion).
Overall, an estimated 4 in 10 children begin life in a family with domestic animals, and as many as 90 percent of all kids live with a pet at some point during their childhood, says Gail F. Melson, PhD, professor emeritus of developmental studies at Purdue University, in Indiana, and the author of Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children.
When I was growing up, I always had at least one dog padding beside me on every adventure, and my wife was raised on a farm. So we planned all along to make animals a part of our child's life, and we are delighted by how enthusiastically our daughter, Natalie, has embraced pets. Her natural zeal and passion for critters of all kinds has led to our current menagerie of one German shepherd, three cats, a freshwater aquarium, a confoundingly long-lived tank of mail order Sea-Monkeys, and, because we live on 4 1/2 acres of Pennsylvania woods, an endless series of cameo appearances by turtles, mice, moles, frogs, toads, tadpoles, ducks, geese, and slugs -- to name just a few of the creatures that have come to visit.
All these beasts have been beneficial to Natalie's development, but we've been surprised by how wide-ranging those benefits have been. Like most parents, my wife and I counted on the commonsense idea that having pets around would help teach our daughter responsibility, and maybe empathy. But we've also learned that the presence of animals in our house helps foster her emotional, cognitive, social, and physical development. And I've discovered there's plenty of solid evidence to back that up.
Here are five reasons to let the fur fly in your home.