They Can Provide Kids With Wonderful Experiences

If you want to know about the benefits of owning a pet, just ask the Farrugias. They live in the Adelaide Hills with a menagerie ranging from earthworms to chickens. Several weeks ago, their border collies gave birth to a litter of 10 puppies, a magical experience for the children.

“We actually assisted (mother) Blaise give birth: we saw the puppies come out each in their own sacks, and we pierced the sacks, saw each one take their first breaths, cut their umbilical cords – it was amazing,” dad Fernando says.

They Teach Children About The Cycle Of Life

The opposite end of the life journey has also been an important family learning experience.

“We’ve had lots of animals pass away for various reasons,” Fernando says. “I remember Georgia (nine) experiencing our cat dying – she was inconsolable. At the time you think, ‘Oh, this is terrible!’ but then, when my mum died, Georgia was able to rationally deal with it.”

Professor Anna Chur-Hansen, head of the Adelaide University School of Psychology, says there’s solid evidence to show that owning animals provides a range of physical and psychological benefits.

“There’s quite a bit of research that’s been done on the benefits of having pets – things like encouraging exercise, and increasing empathy for other living creatures,” she says. “Pet ownership can teach children about another creature’s dependence on them, that they suffer pain and worry and other emotions, just like we do.”

Owning And Caring For Pets Gives Kids Friendship And Confidence

Some kids’ personalities are particularly likely to benefit from having pets. Lisa McCarthy lives with her husband and children on a mixed-fruit orchard in McLaren Vale. At various times they have goats, dogs, chooks and rabbits on the farm.

Lisa says pets have brought enormous benefits to their kids’ lives, especially to six-year-old Tilly. “Tilly will be shy or upset, and the pets will just make her happy straight away – nothing else can make her happy like a pet can,” she says. “When she’s been shy about going to school or something, I’ll say ‘the dogs can come along’ – and she’ll just have this kind of pride about her, and she’ll be ok.”

They Encourage Outdoor Play And Exercise

In an era where indoor entertainment often dominates, pets offer the very real advantage of luring kids outside to play. Fernando says his children often burn off excess energy playing with their dogs.

“Arabella (seven) is extremely adventurous and energetic and outgoing, and the dogs are a massive outlet for her. Sometimes she’ll go outside when it’s freezing; she’ll rug up in a million layers just so she can run around with Benno. If he wasn’t around, I think she’d be bored inside, maybe even sulky.”

So what pet is the right pet? The most important thing, when considering a pet, is to look into the time and effort required to look after it, says Adelaide Animal Hospital vet David Mason.

“If you want to get a dog, for example, you’ve got to look at the breed of dog you’re going to get, based on the amount of time you’ve got,” he says. “Some dogs require a lot of activity for energy release.”

The more energetic breeds typically include medium-sized dogs like border collies, kelpies and labradors, while less energetic breeds are often big, like great Danes and greyhounds, and small, such as poodles and terriers.

“A greyhound will cope on a 10 minute walk once a day, whereas a border collie will want a five kilometre walk twice a day,” says David. “Depending on your lifestyle, one breed might be more appropriate than another.”

The same goes when considering any type of pet – for example, guinea pigs require less maintenance than rabbits, and freshwater fish less than tropical fish. Decisions around pets aren’t easy – they call for thorough research. But it seems to be a decision that’s worth putting some time into. After all, the jury is unanimous: it’s good to get a pet.