Willa-dog is having surgery today. A very expensive surgery to repair a torn cruciate ligament in her left hind leg. We have no idea how it happened. She'd been to the vet only two week ago for her "senior wellness exam" (she's ten years old) and the vet told us she was overweight. She also ended up on a stronger medication to help her arthritis. Scott and I think that she was feeling more energetic and mobile on the arthritis medication and maybe took a set of stairs too enthusiastically. Her excess weight, coupled with her build--broad body and short legs--probably caused her knee to blow out.
There's no avoiding the surgery; believe me, if there were, we would have found it. Pets can be expensive, there's no question about it. But what you get in exchange for opening you home and heart to them is just immeasurable, I think. They give so much and ask so very little in return. Pets teach children compassion, empathy, and responsibility. They can also provide sad but important lessons on the life and death cycle, and on the grief and healing process as well. Adopting a pet from an animal shelter (the only way to go, in my opinion), can teach children about the power of altruism and provide you as parent with the opportunity to teach your children valuable lessons about responsibility pet-ownership and commitment. You can start small, too--no need to jump right into bringing a puppy home, if you're not equipped as a family for that level of commitment. But even owning a single fish can help children learn about the natural world, and teach them early lessons on being responsible for another creature.
I've written before about how welcoming Annie-cat into our home helped L. through a dark and unusually anxious time in his life. He connected with her in ways we hadn't seen in a long time, and the bond he formed with her allowed him to feel a part of the world again. While pets can help all kids feel empathy and compassion, they can be invaluable in teaching these lessons to a child who feels displaced, or troubled, or anxious. They can help a child who struggles to communicate effectively feel understood. Communicating with an animal friend isn't about social cues and body language and looking people in the eye--it's about something greater than all that, yet there's a beautiful simplicity to it, too.