Thursday, March 3, 2011

Critter Comfort

There are so many things I am grateful for when it comes to my daughter. One thing that occurred to me just the other day as I watched Makensie wrap her arms around her favorite dog, Chloe, is how important a relationship with animals can be in our lives. I was raised with animals surrounding me my whole life. In fact, I don’t remember a time in my childhood when there wasn’t one pet or another by my side. In my family, it’s assured from birth that you will be an animal lover. No matter how snorty, stinky, slobbery, or sickly (trust me, I’ve seen it all!) they may be, my family has always made space in our hearts for the four-legged, and Kensie is no different.

When Kensie was born, her father (also a huge lover of everything furry) and I shared a one-bedroom apartment with two dogs and two cats (homes are a bit more expensive on the West Coast). So the day she was born, one of the first questions I asked my doctor was how fleas might affect her health. (To those of you out there who don’t know, fleabites in small numbers actually help boost little ones’ immune systems. Who knew!?!) Having four animals waiting on us at home, it was necessary to be prepared for anything, especially when it came to our new baby.

From the first day, one of our dogs, Dakota, watched over Kensie quite protectively when she slept. Our cat, Cody, attempted to curl up next to her head and sleep with her in her crib (not a good idea according to every parenting book I had ever read to that point). Both cats loved to swat at her swing as she snoozed during naps, and the dogs lived for afternoon walks on the beach when they could run free while Kensie snoozed away in her baby Bjorn. From the day we brought her home from the hospital to that tiny apartment filled with critters, animals have been a huge part of Kensie’s everyday life.

Though I have numerous friends who don’t have pets for one reason or another (allergies suck, I know), I am a firm believer that raising children with pets is beneficial for so many reasons. The most obvious: Having pets teaches children from a very young age about the importance of affection, compassion, and responsibility. But there are many other reasons why raising children with pets helps them grow into more well-rounded human beings. Taking dogs for walks teaches kids the importance of staying fit. Coming across other animals and learning they’re not all friendly teaches them to use caution. Losing pets for one reason or another teaches them about loss. Already, at only 3, Kensie has had one cat pass away and the other disappear and not return, and she has had to help me nurse one of our dogs back from near-death. Though some may think this a bit harsh for such a young child, I firmly believe that she’s learning invaluable coping skills that will help her navigate her way through what can be a very difficult world—no video games necessary!

Though she has yet to bring home a rabid kitten (I did that to my mom once) or beg me to try to nurse a baby opossum the size of a house key back to health (yep, did that, too), I know my little girl is learning some very important things about life from her furry friends. Yes, one day she will have to deal with the loss of her best friend, Chloe, and that will be difficult. But ultimately, that loss will help her to understand early on that life can be tough, the universe isn’t designed to make things easy for her, and sometimes things happen that are unexpected and heartbreaking. Most importantly, it will teach her to appreciate every single day, because you never know what tomorrow has in store.