All in the family

Have a pet and you have a friend for life.


LOVE ME, LOVE MY PET: With a star pet, a tortoise PHOTO: C.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

LOVE ME, LOVE MY PET: With a star pet, a tortoise PHOTO: C.V. SUBRAHMANYAM  

September 26 was International Family Day. Ask Divya Karan, 7, how many people make her family and she promptly replies, "Four and Sasha our dog." A cherished pet is like a member of the family. Childhood pets in particular, are a rich source of learning and comfort, fondly remembered well into adulthood. "One of the first dogs we had was an Alsatian called Tito. He was smart and he was special," says Divya's father, Bala Karan. "Which was why I wanted my girls to know the joy of having a pet." Sasha the Doberman grins in agreement.

Most children love animals — they are cute, warm and cuddly and to a child they seem like teddy bears brought to life. "Caring for a pet can bring rich rewards," says Maya Malhotra, a Montessori teacher and a volunteer with the PFA. "Animals can provide companionship, loyalty and unconditional love, helping children build self-esteem. Caring for an animal teaches children to behave responsibly towards other beings, learning about an animal's needs and wants and seeing the world from the pet's point of view helps children develop empathy."

It's not all about dogs and cats. Visit the government veterinary hospital on outpatient days and you'd be amazed at the variety walking the wards. People cuddle up and coo to lambs, chicks, parrots and on rare occasions even a tortoise. Says Francis who's had Milton, his tortoise for more than a decade now, "He's grown bigger and it's difficult to lug him around. He's pretty much in his own world but we love him no less. Keats, our cat and he are great friends."

While most pets serve as great companions some serve as part of therapy for sick children. "Even if you are not ill or visually impaired a dog or any other pet is a great source of comfort. Pets understand your moods better than humans and it's so therapeutic to have them around you," says Arjun a college student. On the other hand, caring for pets takes up time and money. So if you are considering getting one make sure you can provide adequate care, attention and training. "Getting a pet just for the purpose of teaching a child responsibility is not a good idea," says Natasha Govind, a veterinarian who specialises in small animals. "Make sure you are ready to feed and exercise it when your child suddenly doesn't feel like it. Children should be taught how to handle pets and should not bother them when they are resting, sleeping, eating or playing alone with a toy. Pets need their private time too."

Long time companions or faithful friends, Medhansh Das sums it all up when he says, "What's so beautiful about them is that they ask so little in return. And their loyalty can never be bought."

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