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Bond with pets through training. Teaching tricks by using a clicker is fun for both children and pets, and even young children can get the basics pretty quickly. Training isn’t limited to dogs, by the way: Cats can learn to perform with enthusiasm as well, and so can smaller pets such as rabbits, rats and birds. With yummy treats and a clicker, there’s no end to the fun, and the bond your child shares with her pet will become more meaningful.
Start a penny drive for homeless animals. How about a project or two? Raising money for homeless pets isn’t that hard, if it’s done one penny at a time. Or just make it about small change: Get family, friends and grandparents to save their change for a month. Donations will need to be counted and rolled or taken to a coin counting machine. Once this is done, your child can donate the cash to a shelter. She can also ask around and collect one key thing that shelters need: a lot of towels. A few old towels here and there really add up and can give everyone an excuse to clean out the linen closet.
Volunteer as a dog walker and cat snuggler. For older children — typically middle school or older — volunteering at a shelter can be a wonderful experience. All shelters have different policies and minimum age requirements for volunteers, so ask around locally. Once through required training for safety and handling skills, children can help make shelter pets more adoptable by helping to keep them happy and active. Kitten snuggling is great for socialization, and walking dogs helps to keep their stress levels down while they are living in the shelter.
Be neighborly to pets in need. Finally, never forget that helping pets often means helping people as well. If there’s perhaps an elderly neighbor whose dog needs more exercise than she can give him, that can be a great way for an older child to help out. And while long-term or complicated pet care is probably best left to a professional pet sitter, older children might also be able to help with a midday check-in for a pet whose owner works long hours, or a feeding when the family will be home late.
My wife and I have raised two wonderful children to be adults we are proud of, and the animals in our lives have helped both us and them. The lessons of giving, caring and sharing last a lifetime.
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