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Natural Kids in the City: Small Space Pets
by Liz Parnell

Small Space PetsOwnership of a pet is beneficial to children. Research shows that kids who have pets often have better social skills than their peers. Owning a pet also teaches responsibility and cooperation, encourages a more active lifestyle, encourages empathy and caring behaviours, and can teach children about life and its cycles. Pet ownership also gives children the skills and confidence to interact appropriately with other animals.

Urban environments are full of small living spaces, and children living in small spaces often miss out on having a pet. But that’s not necessary. This column will focus on pets for small spaces.

There are several different approaches to pets for small spaces. The determining factors are length of commitment, space available and cost. If you have a small available area but not a lot of money to spend and are unwilling to make a long term commitment to a pet, you can still give your child the experience of responsibility for a pet. You just have very different needs to some one who has, say, a small courtyard and some indoor space, is willing to shoulder the long term responsibility for a pet and has the money to purchase the pet and any necessary equipment.

The easiest and cheapest pets are pets found in the garden. They may be grasshoppers, caterpillars, ladybirds or whatever inhabits your garden or a garden nearby. They require very little – a box or container to keep them with air holes (not so big that they can get out, if you want to keep them!), water and food, which is most often found in the same place the pet was found. Even if you were to go all out in the equipment department, all that would be required is a bug catcher, a small plastic aquarium with very small air holes, a microscope (for looking at the insects) and a butterfly net. However, all these items are not necessary.

The downside to this type of pet is that it can often be a short-lived pet. On the other hand, due to their short lives, insect pets can be a good introduction to life cycles. Some animals hatch from eggs, grow, reproduce and die in a matter of weeks, while others may live for months. Your local library is a great source of information on insects and how to catch and keep them, as is the Internet.

For someone with a little more space and money, a small pet that lives in a defined space, such as a guinea pig or hamster in a hutch, a bird in a cage or a fish in a bowl or aquarium, is a good option. While the basic set-up cost is higher, there are usually options to suit all budgets. A Siamese fighting fish requires very little water and the tank does not need plants or aeration, however the water does need to be refreshed regularly. A six-foot tank of tropical fish, on the other hand, requires more in the way of space, equipment and ongoing maintenance.

There are also more exotic pets to consider. Turtles, lizards, frogs, scorpions and spiders all make unusual pets and are all kept in a small space (usually an aquarium or similar container) and may be suitable for small space living. These pets, however, are usually the subject of laws, regulations and permits. Please check with your local authorities regarding the applicable requirements.

Even if your family can’t commit to owning a pet, there are ways that your children can have the benefits of pet ownership. If your family has space but lacks the ability to make a long term commitment to a pet, then volunteering to bring up a guide dog (or seeing-eye dog) puppy is one way to experience this. The puppies need care for 12 to 18 months, which is still a reasonably long time, albeit it brief in comparison to the 10- to 20-year commitment buying a puppy brings. Some organizations may also have a sponsorship service whereby the family donates money to the organization and receives updates on the progress of “their” puppy. But in that case, your family will not meet or be physically responsible for the puppy.

A shorter-term responsibility for pet ownership could include foster care of an animal from a pound until it is found a suitable home. Wildlife organizations also often need carers to look after injured animals and nurse them back to health.

People who are going on holidays may also need their pets cared for. Your children can take on the responsibility for checking on the pet daily, feeding it, cleaning up after it and exercising it. You might be able to find an elderly person who is no longer able to take their pet for a walk and who would enjoy the company of a family and allow your children to walk their pet even once a week.

An alternative for older children is volunteering to help at a veterinarian surgery or pet store. The child would have responsibilities like cleaning cages and feeding pets. There may be some age restrictions involved in certain areas and it will depend on the willingness of the veterinarian or owner.

Living in a small space requires a creative approach to pet ownership but there are many ways your children and your family can experience the benefits, no matter your circumstances. You may even be able to serve people in your community and bring benefits to your local community in the process.

Liz Parnell is a wife, mother and homemaker who lives in Australia. She enjoys reading non-fiction, cooking, writing short articles, making their small living space a home and being a present mother to her children.


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