March 17, 2008 by Maria-Elena Cloherty, DVM
Far too often I hear a familiar scenario, whereby a couple is panicking about the fact they think they will need to get rid of their pet dog/cat because of their new baby. It is upsetting to me, given my love of and commitment to animals, to hear people first consider getting rid of, or re-housing a pet, before they have even asked for my or another professional’s assistance. Often these situations can be remedied by simple changes in a person’s behaviors which in turn impact an animal’s behavior. But to most lay persons this is not known, nor is the patience to pursue means of peaceful coexistence considered. Thus the pet is not given a fair chance to be assessed, and they are thus surrendered, abandoned, or neglected by their owners.
Our Relationship With Our Pets
Unfortunately, we live in a time when EVERYTHING is believed to be easily replaced and/or “disposable”, and this to me is a disturbing trend. For these animals, over the years, we have established a relationship, a bond in which we have becoming their everything-provider, protector, and friend. It is very sad to see how common it is that people can give up so easily and succumb to this idea that a pet is disposable, and better off elsewhere. Consequently, this is far from true. And in far too many cases, this results in the euthanasia of millions of animals each year- some because they are considered too old to be placed, and others because people assume they were “bad” with children and therefore do not want to take a chance with these pets.
It is a very common situation for a pet, which has lived as the “apple of one’s eye” for many years, to be a bit curious, upset by, or show resentment toward a newborn. To them it is the equivalent to being replaced by a new pet. Only in this instance, it is one that takes up all of their owners’ time, is sometimes kept away from them, makes horrific sounds/smells at times, and to which they are denied access thus preventing them from using their natural need to explore with all their senses.
A Time Investment in Getting Your Pets Comfortable
If one wanted to give a pet a chance to remain a member of their family, they would need to dedicate some time (frequently/intermittently) to allow each (the pet and the baby) exposure to the other, in a controlled situation. Over time, in many instances the pet would likely adapt, perhaps even become protective of what they may grow to see as “their new charge”. The child in turn, as it grows in understanding, may be taught appropriate means of interacting with pets, and how to enjoy their “new pal”.
Getting Professional Veterinary Assistance
Should one find they are having a more difficult time in getting their pets to interact appropriately with a child, then aid of an expert should be sought. A veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist, as a professional, can be called upon to give specific means of attempting to bring about a positive relationship. A behaviorist may even visit one’s home to see the pet in its natural surroundings and watch the relationships/interactions in person. They will then give their honest opinion of the likelihood that change can occur, and input as to how to bring about this change.
I do think it is best, if one has tried to follow the above-referenced path and to no avail to consider another circumstance for the pet, but only if there is NO OTHER WAY. As I have mentioned far too many of these pets are destroyed with minimal attempt in getting them a new home. And as “pet lovers” and civilized people, how can we knowingly contribute to an already sad statistic and betray a pet that we have sworn to love and provide for during its lifetime.