Ask Abbie: How to determine when to get a dog

Published 11:37 am Saturday, March 29, 2014

By Abbie-Fox Worrell

Question: How old should a child be before he gets a dog? My 9-year old son is begging me for a dog, but I am just not sure if he is ready for the responsibility and I don’t want to have to be the only one who ends up taking care of it.

Answer: Sam’s alarm clock had a bad habit of interrupting his dreams. Today was no different. Forced to do so by the day’s hectic schedule, he proceeded to remove the sheets from over his head, lower his feet to the floor, and assume a standing position. Although he woke up on the wrong side of the bed, he still chose to get off of it on the right foot.

While at work later that day, Sam found himself preoccupied with thoughts of his unresolved early morning dream. In it Sam and his 9-year old son, as was part of their weekly routine, were walking up and down the aisles of their local animal shelter. Each cage they came upon housed a homeless resident. Some appeared peaceful, some anxious and some oblivious. It had taken Sam a long time and a lot of thought, but he was finally ready to give his son a definitive answer to his request for a dog. As Sam began to vocalize this conclusion to his son, his dream ended to the sound of his untimely alarm clock.

In order to determine if you and your son are ready for the responsibility of a new dog, consider the different emotions Sam encountered while visiting the shelter. Which of these, calm, anxious or oblivious, would you prefer to be dominant in your home? Choose carefully for whichever of these you select will also determine the emotion you must exude in order to achieve your desired result.

This cause-and-effect-relationship occurs as follows. If you are fearful, anxious or angry about getting a dog, your actions will show it; your dog will sense it and act the same. As a result, difficulty will be added to whatever atmosphere is present in your home and potentially render it unbearable. If, however, you are at peace with your decision, your actions will reflect it; your dog will sense it, act accordingly and warmth and love will be added to your home atmosphere. All it takes is one dog or one person in a family to change its dynamic from good to bad or vice versa.

If you do not feel able or ready to match your emotions related to getting a dog with the atmosphere you desire for your home, I suggest you turn down your son’s request until you are. Consider offering your son his choice of a pet that requires less responsibility. Alternatives that fit this description could be kept in his room all of the time and include fish, hamsters and parakeets.

If you are ready and willing to match your emotions regarding getting a dog with the atmosphere you desire for your family, I encourage you to work with your son to find a dog that not only is right for him, but that also matches your family’s lifestyle, routine and resources. The physical and emotional benefits you stand to gain by achieving a perfect match between all parties involved are many and often irreplaceable.

Physical conditions proven to be positively influenced for those who own pets include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, poor cardiovascular health, depression associated with serious illnesses, and low survival rates after a heart attack. From an emotional standpoint, pets help the self-absorbed become less so because caring for a pet requires periods of focus away from the person and onto the pet. Pets also decrease one’s feelings of loneliness and isolation by providing non-judgmental companionship. In addition, pets are able to lift our moods even when we don’t deserve it.

While considering your emotions and current capabilities, listen and wait for a nudge to call upon your spirit to let you know when the timing is right to get your son a dog. Act according to it and wake up from your real-life dream refreshed. Act premature to it and wake up from your real-life nightmare exhausted.

ABBIE-FOX WORRELL is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to