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Blending The Family: Introducing Children to Pets

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 16/03/2016 Brie Witherspoon

2016-03-13-1457862905-9524886-BTF_1.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-03-13-1457862905-9524886-BTF_1.jpg Ingrid's Son, Ethan, at 3 months with a friend's Pug, Frank
When my older sister Kir was born, my parent's 10 and 11 year old Yorkies, Kirsch and Butch, were not impressed. From the moment they brought her home, Kirsch and Butch were kicked off of all the comfortable places -- couch, bed, laundry hamper -- and forced to fend for themselves on the uninviting, uncomfortable, and cold floor. It was clear from their body language that both dogs considered the baby to be the intruder, but Butch chose the path of least resistance and simply decided to distance himself and find new places to hide out. But Kirsch, being the more dominant of the two, had probably asked them to return 'that noisy thing' to the pet store, and exchange her for the memory foam dog bed with the pink lace pillow top, or a new Kong chew toy, since hers was pretty worn out. But since my parents didn't speak 'dog', Kirsch was forced to voice opposition in another way, one that would allow her to reclaim her house and position as pack leader, and ensure 100% that her whimpers would not be drowned out by baby cries.
So what did she do? She left a warm, wet, puddle of pee everyplace the baby sat. When my sister was placed on the couch, as soon as she was moved, Kirsch peed in the exact same spot. Same thing next to the baby basin in the bathroom, behind the high chair in the kitchen, and last but not least, right smack dead in the center of my parent's king size bed. And while it was a nuisance to clean up, and a headache to endure, what could they do? The Yorkies were part of the family, so they would have to learn to blend.
How to introduce children to pets is a common predicament amongst new parents. Questions such as "Will my pet bite my child?" or "How do I comfort my pet so that they don't feel abandoned and show resentment?", are just a few of the more common ones. As my husband and I are getting ready to start a family and will face the same situation with our 8 year old German Shepard and 10 year old cat, I decided to conduct more research on the subject and interview 4 professional mothers who shared their educational views and successful experiences.
Dr. Olivia Shoenfeld is a mother of two young children, ages 7 and 3 ½, and a certified Veterinarian. She completed her undergraduate at McGill University; took an accelerated pre-med course at Rutger's University; then studied 5 years at Veterinary School in Scotland; and finished off by doing an internship at the University Of Pennsylvania Veterinary School, before starting her practice. When asked why she chose this profession she replied,

"Like many of my colleagues, it is a vocation. I wanted to be a veterinarian from the age of 3, when I started off "treating" and "hospitalizing" my stuffed animals, followed by treating all the traumatized birds and chipmunks caught by my cats."

When her children were born, Olivia worried about introducing them to her Chihuahua, who had been her constant companion since she began in private practice.
"My fears were two-fold: how was my dog going to cope with no longer being the center of my attention (how was he going to react to this "intrusion") and would I need to protect my children from my dog?" I wondered if I knew my dog well enough to anticipate how he would act around my children (ie. could he be trusted).
"I was worried that he could become frustrated or aggressive. Some non-pet people asked if I would get rid of him when I had my children, which was out of the question. Others worried that I wouldn't give my children enough attention."

As it turned out, her worries were turned into afterthoughts, and the reality of the situation was a lot less stressful then originally imagined.
"In reality, the transition went very smoothly and naturally. My dog did not particularly react any differently when my babies were brought home than if we had a visitor. He was curious but otherwise normal.
"I included him in our routine from the beginning. I was cautious not to leave the babies and my dog alone unattended when they were very small to avoid my children or my dog getting hurt. My children grew up with my dog and respected and cherished him. He solicited their affection as well as mine.
"Dogs are so family oriented as they are pack animals and, as such, they really enjoy playing an active role in a growing family as long as everyone's needs are met."
2016-03-13-1457862998-870698-BTF_2.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-03-13-1457862998-870698-BTF_2.jpg Ingrid's son, Ethan, being introduced to farm animals
Many people are overly concerned that animals are not very sanitary and carry diseases that can be transmitted to their children. This fear is what drives them to keep their children in more isolated environments, out of contact with nature, wildlife, farm animals, and also deters them from having pets. As a medical professional, I asked Olivia to share her thoughts on this subject.
"I have cats which live with my parents because my husband is allergic. Ironically my kids were around my cats as small babies and annually thereafter. They have never had any issues with allergies. I think that as long as a pet is protected against parasites, and does not inflict harm on children (scratching or biting), there aren't that many diseases that are transmissible.
"It is my conviction that the more restrictive parents are, the more of a disservice they are doing their children. I know of people who practically wouldn't leave their home with their baby for the first year, restricting contact with the general public, other children (and definitely animals) in an attempt to protect their babies from disease. It seemed that these were the children which turned out to have all sorts of allergies. Perhaps it was a biased impression but I think, in general, that the more exposure your young children get (within the limits of what is safe, of course), the more adaptable they will be in the future, both physically and psychologically."
2016-03-13-1457863078-3023692-BTF_3.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-03-13-1457863078-3023692-BTF_3.jpg Olivia and her ChihuahuaTHE LAWYER
Eleftheria Koufougeorgou is a mother of two young girls ages 3 and almost 2. She holds a BA in Law; Master's in Business Administration; certificate in Logistics and Supply Chain Management and Environmental Management; and is working as a Procurement and Contract Specialist. Eleftheria and her husband had one dog before her first daughter was born, and adopted a second dog while carrying her second child. Continue Reading on Petopia's Blog 'Zoe's Couch' 2016-03-13-1457863685-7891712-BTF_4.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-03-13-1457863685-7891712-BTF_4.jpg Eleftheria's daughter, Ifigenia, and their Labrador, Perseas

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