Oklahoma City family fun surprises you sometimes.
I had no idea until just recently how much my children like dogs.
We are not a dog family.
It seems like all children everywhere have gotten together and decided, collectively, that they love dogs. Classmates talk about dogs. Neighbor children jog by happily led by dogs. Dog parks are teeming with kids and adults who appear to be having a great time. Yet, the child-to-dog ratio in this house stands at a firm 3-0.
I see books and movies and actual families who seem all about that special bond with a canine companion. I do have daydreams of my sons running through fields with Radio Flyer wagons and a dog named Skip or Sunny or something equally energetic. I'm always the first here to ugly cry at "Marley and Me."
The reality of that, though, is a dog that deserves to be walked and not ridden by our small children, who will bark, shed, eat and probably outgrow all of us rather petite humans who live in this house. I can't handle a fish tank much less a puppy. The fact that we have two cats, Picasso and James the Girl, is proof that cats are low-maintenance and independent, for better or worse.
I've fought the "Can we get a puppy?" question every December since before we had children. My husband loves dogs. I just don't. I have a strange memory of being bit in the face by a small dog while my parents were touring a house for sale when I was about 2 and I think that scar, although faded, also has something to do with my hesitance.
Just because I don't have time for a dog right now doesn't mean my sons, ages 9, 5 and 2, will miss out.
If you're in a similar situation, here are three ways to enjoy dogs' company without having to bring one home:
Try a Children Reading to Dogs event: The Metropolitan Library System offers twice-monthly reading sessions on weekday evenings where children can read to different on-site therapy dogs. Volunteers bring their therapy-certified pets to interact with children and let kids read a few pages to them. My pre-K student doesn't read fluidly yet but that was no obstacle. He explained a picture book to Tilly and Finn, two sheltie mixes that were gentle and eager to meet children. They visit hospitals and nursing homes so they're used to people and pass tests to prove it. "We've found that sharing a story with dogs is a way for new readers to spend time with books and read to an audience that won't judge them. It doesn't really matter if they pronounce the words correctly. They're still practicing and a dog isn't going to do anything but listen," explained volunteer Loretta. I was amazed to see how much my sons really wanted to interact with all three dogs present and just pet them. Sam, 9, felt a little silly reading to them but he was the first to conclude that "no one is too old to love a dog." Click here for the full schedule of when dogs are visiting a library near you.
Volunteer at a local animal shelter: I wasn't familiar with local animal shelters and the work they do until we decided to adopt the cats. It turns out you can just visit the cats and dogs in the Oklahoma City and surrounding areas' shelters to walk dogs, throw a ball and play fetch, brush them and spend some time together. Several families were there when we were with tennis balls and middle school-age kids just to take the dogs out. I can't guarantee that it will be easy to get your child to leave without a new pet but the promise of returning with new treats or toys definitely makes that easier. In fact, my awesome friend Kristen hosted her sons' shared birthday party a few weeks ago and encouraged guests to bring shelter donations in lieu of gifts, which is such a kind idea. Adoption fees at the city shelters are amazingly reasonable too. We paid just $25 for a cat from the City of Edmond Animal Shelter that came spayed and with all her vaccines, which is much less than those treatments would have cost through a vet. Click here to find a list of local shelters.
Turn fun into profit: Guide your older child into helping out a neighbor who could use a break walking his or her dog a few days each week. Sam is 9 now but I can see where this idea could become his after-school job when he's 12 or so. We look in on a neighbor's pets together now and then when they travel and I've heard of success through the Rover app. We'll see where that goes over the next few years but there are plenty of families who would pay to have someone lend a hand.
If you know of other ways families can enjoy a dog without owning one, email us and we just might share them! When you are ready to make the commitment, check out these tips on choosing a pet that's compatible with kids from our calendar editor, Lindsay Cuomo. You can always find dog-related events from dog shows to pet-friendly 5Ks on our calendar too.
Picasso is meowing at my door. That's all the fuss I can handle for now. We actually do have a leash for him and I sometimes wonder if we could walk him each evening. Wish me luck!