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A Kids Best Friend

The Role Animals Play in our Families

PPets are great. It’s not just that they are loving and entertaining, but studies have shown that they improve the overall health and wellness of kids, families and individuals. Having a family pet is not without its share of work, but many believe that even the responsibility of taking care of a pet only enhances its positives.

The human/animal bond is undeniable, according to Dr. Seth Nienhueser, a veterinarian at the Watford City Vet Center. He says that he sees it in the clinic when a pet is sick or when a pet is simply getting a checkup. Humans and animals bond and form a relationship, and that relationship is mutually beneficial.

According to Dr. Nienhueser, having a pet teaches children to act outside of themselves for the benefit of something outside themselves, whether they want to or not. This is an excellent life lesson and there are not many things in life that provide children that kind of opportunity.

“Even our own child helps feed the family dog and take it outside,” he states. “It’s something that she loves doing, but it also winds up teaching her a lot.”

James Cromwell puts it this way: “Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation and responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for life.”

Animals need to be attended to and doing it is good for us.

Additionally, pets make excellent play companions. Most children can play with a pet for hours, whether shining a red lazer light on the floor or throwing a ball. Pets provide entertainment and give us a reason to get out of bed and be active.

“For the elderly, owning a pet can simply get them up and moving,” states Dr. Nienhueser, who adds that owning a pet has been shown to lower a person’s blood pressure as well. “But a lot of teens and young adults run or walk with their pets for exercise.”

There are numerous additional health benefits to pet ownership. According to Animal Planet’s website, owning a pet can actually reduce a child’s likelihood of developing allergies by as much as 33 percent, help minimize risk of heart attack, and help combat feelings of loneliness and depression. Pets can also serve as an icebreaker in social situations and are often used to lift the mood of seniors in nursing homes and to aid war veterans suffering with PTSD.

“Pets set kids up for life,” states Dr. Nienhueser. “And if a child has a pet, they are more likely to have one as an adult.”

Dr. Nienhueser urges parents to introduce pets into their families, because the benefits are very positive. However, parents should use caution when bringing a pet into the home.

“If you have children and bring a dog or cat into the home, make sure to supervise their interactions,” states Dr. Nienhueser. “Teach children how to pick up on how animals are acting.”

Animals will always tell us how they are feeling, but children need to be taught what to look for.

“If a dog is growling, teach your kids to stop playing with them and leave them alone,” states Dr. Nienhueser. “Teach your kids not to run up to your dog, or a strange dog, but to approach it slowly. Children need to know not to intimidate other animals, and when to back away from an animal.”

Kids also need to understand to be careful around animals and their food, as they can be more aggressive around their food and can be more likely to bite.

“What we don’t want to see, though, is kids being afraid of animals,” states Dr. Nienhueser. “That is not a good thing, either. Kids need to be taught how to interact with animals, not to be afraid of them.”

Dr. Nienhueser says that there’s a ton of information on training strategies for pets and children, and parents may want to do some research and develop a plan before bringing the new pet home. Some things to consider are the age of the pet and the children in the home, so that a plan can be tailored to those factors.

Avoiding impulse decisions and taking the time to research options and introduce a new pet to the family will put families and animals on the path to fast friendship.

Written by Kate Ruggles


Kate Ruggles is a writer living in Watford City with her husband and two kids. She can be reached by email at

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