Human/Animal Bond

The Dangers Children Can Cause Pets

My children aren’t the only ones to facilitate a critter jailbreak

Published: March 12, 2018

I still can’t forgive myself for a dark night over a decade ago.

I hadn’t been asleep long when my husband shook me awake. '"Christy, can you come out front? Sophie’s been hit by a car. I think she’s dead."

I shoved my glasses on my face and stumbled out. Our black Lab lay on the walkway, a bit of blood in the corner of her mouth. Her eyes were open, staring and fixed. I rested my hand on her chest, stunned. No corneal reflex, no heartbeat, our sweet girl was gone.

The woman driving the car was crying. She had seen the mostly white form of our Dalmatian Spotz, Sophie’s partner in escapism, in her headlights and swerved to miss Spotz. She hadn’t seen the black Lab on the black road.

The steps leading to Sophie’s demise had been set in motion earlier that day. We lived in the country, so grocery store runs for a family of five were massive undertakings. When my husband was distracted – arms full of bags – the kids ran ahead of him, pushing open the back gate. The dogs always waited for this scenario: distracted adult, pushover (literally) kids. As the kids barreled into the yard, Sophie and Spotz barreled out. This had happened before. Usually the dogs ran around the fields a few times, then headed home.

That evening, they headed for the horizon. Mike and I tried but were unable to catch them and had to just hope they returned. They did. Too late.

As a parent and as a veterinarian, my main concern raising animals and kids together was always the harm the animals could inflict on the kids. But, it’s important to remember, things can go the other way.

Anyone who has spent much time with small children knows several things:

  1. They lack a sense of boundaries.
  2. They lack a sense of consequences.
  3. They have a fascination with putting objects on – and in – things. Especially body parts.
  4. They can’t put ANYTHING away or back the way they found it.

My children aren’t the only ones to facilitate a critter jailbreak. If you have children and pets, it’s best to assume that children can't be trusted to keep the pets properly enclosed. Conversely, children can keep pets restrained too well. Any parent who's found Fido tied up with a short leash to the fence post two hours after the kids come inside can attest to that.

Children LOVE rubber bands and string. I don’t know why, but most small children are miniature bondage fetishists. They put hair ties around everything, including pets’ heads, paws, ears, tails, and muzzles. Ditto rubber bands. They try to tie their toys to everything, including the dog’s or cat’s tail or collar. They leave the hair ties, rubber bands, and string where the pet has a handy snack and you have a handy surgery to pay for.  

Unfortunately, instead of remaining as nifty doggie decorations, these bands can act as tourniquets -- cutting off blood flow, causing swelling, and eventually cutting through the skin and into the tissues below. Pets can be seriously injured by rubber bands and hair ties.

If you have small children, make sure you’re brushing or petting your entire pet every day. This will help you catch the rubber band Jack put on Fluffy’s mouth and forgot, or the hair tie Jill put around Bowser’s ears. Trust me, those things can be hard to spot on furry creatures when you’re distracted by Jill trying to force feed Jack the Lego cake.

Speaking of feeding … assume your child will try to feed or "give medicine" to your pet with the most inappropriate things possible. Not only are pills and poisons a risk to your children, they are also prime "toys" for little make-believe veterinarians. Pay attention, too, to pet-unfriendly foods in your house (that sugar-free chewing gum may be better for your tween’s teeth, but it’s deadly to the dog). And the avocado your kid tries to feed Fido to get out of eating the "slimy food" could make Fido quite sick.

Let’s not forget scissors. At some point, some bright child will have the idea of playing groomer. Unfortunately, the five-year-old still trying to master the safety scissors is as likely to remove bits of ear or tail as she is fur.

Young kids aren’t the only ones who pose a hazard to pets.

Dogs in particular are unfortunately fond of...ummmm….recreational pharmaceuticals.

That’s right. When you talk to your kids about drugs, make sure to mention that the stash they totally don’t have could land their best four-legged friend in the hospital. This goes for pills and cigarettes as well as pot.

Parenting is hard. It’s complicated, joyful, and exhausting. Adding pets into the mix maximizes all of this. The best bet for keeping your pets safe from your kids is the same tactic to keep your kids safe from the pets. As Mad-Eye Moody would say, “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” 

1 Comment

Andrea Slaugh
March 23, 2018

Your observations are "must reading" for parents of young children who want to add a pet to the family. The shelter where I worked would not allow adoptions to families with young children for exactly the reasons cited in your article.

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