Kids, Pets and Naked Rodents

The trouble with having a responsible child is that when they negotiate for something they really want and truly deserve, they make it virtually impossible to say no.

Our ten year old son is an animal lover. He spends countless hours on the internet or with his nose in a book researching furry, feathered, finned and scaly creatures — their habitats, diets, origins, unique characteristics, whether they’re endangered, etc. The boy is a virtual walking animal almanac.

Every day at breakfast I’m bombarded with facts like, “Did you know giraffes have no vocal chords?” or “A Flamingo can only eat when its head is upside down.” shared in between mouthfuls of toast, but not bacon. He researched animal cruelty and is now a vegetarian.

He feeds our two dogs every morning and fills their water dishes and walks them whenever I ask. His sister isn’t technically his “pet,” but he cares for and watches over her too.

So when he asked (begged) for a guinea pig of his own, how could we say no?

Do I want a messy, squeaky rodent living in my house for the net five years? Not particularly. No matter how responsible a child is, we all know that the parents end up doing more work than they bargained for. Plus pets aren’t cheap.

However, it’s not about us, the parents. It’s about them, the humans we are raising to become responsible, loving and compassionate adults.

Parents who whine and say, “I don’t want a pet,” are missing the point. To deny your child the experience of caring for, bonding with, and loving another living thing is in my opinion, doing them a disservice.

I had all kinds of pets growing up. We always had dogs. We had a cat for a short time until we discovered that both my dad and I are horribly allergic. I had rabbits who lived both inside the house and outside in an elaborate hutch my father built. I had a gerbil named Jasper who used to chew holes through my mother’s shoes. We also had an enormous aquarium. And I had guinea pigs—Fred and Barney.

I look back on each and every one of those pets (minus the dwarf rabbit that went crazy and tried to bite me every day) fondly. I believe that caring for them made me a more nurturing and loving person today.

So when our son asked if he could have a guinea pig, we said yes.

Meet Ernie. No he is NOT a mole rat. He is a Skinny Pig. And he’s the newest member of our family.

skinny pigs


*Mr. Puddlesworth was my first class pet. I adopted him from the Toronto Humane Society. I had a boy in my class who had a very difficult home life and he was afraid to open up to anyone. I had hoped he might bond with an animal — a safe “friend” to confide in. And he did. He and Puddy became close friends and for the first time, this little boy began to trust someone.

When this sweet guinea pig passed away in our home (because I never left him over night at school. Not once — he commuted with me every day) my husband and I were devastated. “He’s just a rodent,” some people said. But to us, he was part of our family.

**Sadly, Ernie passed away. The poor little guy had a massive seizure. You can read our tribute to him here.

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