“Daddy, I want a squirrel. Get me one of those squirrels, I want one, now!” demands Veruca Salt, famously, in "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory." Many parents can relate — perhaps not to the squirrel, but to the repeated requests for an animal, be it a dog, cat, pony or hedgehog.
As much as people want their little ones to be happy as could be, furnishing a furry friend isn’t always easy. There are schedules, chores and allergies to consider — and then there’s the cost. Seattle-based company Rover.com did a survey in which it assessed the cost of a dog at $153 in monthly expenses, with 81 percent of pet parents having spent $500 on vet visits in the first year of having a new puppy. One in five dog owners took time off work to help their puppy adjust, and 16 percent more wished they had, in retrospect. That’s a lot of money and commitment than most 9-year-olds can comprehend.
For folks who aren’t ready for that kind of commitment but still want to foster their children’s connection to and love for animals, there are tons of ways to show them the work that goes into caring for creatures without committing to a long-term live-in pet.
1. Dog-walking or dog-sitting for friends
Sometimes the easy answer is the obvious one: Help your kid spread the word that they’re available to dog-sit or dog-walk, starting with friends who might know and trust your kid. From there, it could turn into a little business even, once word spreads about their love for other people’s pets. If you don’t know any dog owners, a post in a neighborhood Facebook or NextDoor group could help drum up customers.
2. Reading With Rover
This community-based reading program brings therapy dogs into libraries and bookstores, where the trained animals (accompanied by handlers) snuggle up to listen to kids practicing their reading out loud. Instead of the anxiety caused by reading to human audiences, the dogs offer a soft landing, as it were. And, of course, they’re cute and cuddly to boot.
3. Kitty Literature
On a similar note, cat-loving kids ages 5–10 can sign up to volunteer at Seattle Humane’s Kitty Literature program by filling out an application and taking a quick training. Once accepted into the program, they’ll get to sign up for 20-minute sessions reading to cats to socialize them at the Bellevue shelter.
4. Animal movie nights
The Humane Society also offers occasional movie nights, where children ages 6 and up can come and play games, watch a movie, eat pizza and snacks and get to visit with the animals. It’s $30 for the first child and $20 for siblings, but it’s also a chance for a parents' night out, since the program is for kids only.
5. Animal adventure summer camps
For kids ages 7–13, the Humane Society offers a number of summer camps that run Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with an after-care option until 5 p.m. Options include academic options like veterinary training; “Critter Camp,” focused on less traditional pets; and “Arts and Animals,” for kids who might want to combine two passions.
6. Farm school
Farrel-McWhirter Farm School, run by the City of Redmond, offers classes at the small farm in the park. Options include basic one-hour farm tours to meet chickens, pigs, goats, cows and more; or even birthday party programs that include the tour. For more in-depth programs, there are recurring “All About” classes for kids ages 2–5 to learn about their favorite animals. They also offer seasonal classes that include yoga with animals and a variety of summer camps.
7. Volunteer with horses
It’s not hard to find a place to send your kid to learn to ride a horse (Farrel-McWhirter, above, offers lessons, and the internet holds an abundance of other options), but horses and their training can be an expensive hobby. Cougar Mountain Stables offers volunteer opportunities for kids, with no prior horse experience required. After orientation, volunteers can sign up for a three-hour stint. Kids under 12 are welcome, though the parent must work alongside and supervise their child as they do grooming, feeding, walking, ground maintenance and other tasks around the stables.
8. Farm classes
Kelsey Creek Farm, an interactive farm experience, offers a variety of farm classes for animal-loving kiddos. It’s free to stop by and enjoy the playground and picnic facilities and to view the farm animals out in their pasture every day. For kids who want to get more involved, there are classes for kids as young as 2 (with a supervising parent or adult), as well as for older children, and summer camps to work hands-on with the animals.
9. Fostering a dog
Seattle Animal Shelter looks to place some of their shelter dogs with foster families — which might be a good option for families very close to getting a dog, but not quite there yet. The parent needs to be the primary fosterer and needs to have previous dog-handling experience. You’ll also need to be careful to make sure that you get a dog compatible with the children in the house. But if you can find that, get in touch with them and look into helping a pup in need until they find their forever home.
10. Cat cafés
Neko Cat Café on Capitol Hill permits all ages to come and spend time with their cats — a 55-minute session to play with the café’s feline residents — as long as there is an adult for every two children. At Seattle Meowtropolitan in Wallingford, children age 8 and up are allowed in the lounge, but younger kids can sit in the coffee room and watch the cats frolic.