Stray Magnet Blog

Transition to a family: the adjustment to having pets and children

family dogWhen we had kids, our pets’ roles changed in our family. We still love them as much as when we got them but our priorities have changed, the kids come first. The initial transition can be hard and overwhelming at times. Too often pets are given away or surrendered at this time leaving even more pets homeless and facing a worse fate. My hope is people will reach out and get the help they need to maintain their household with their pets. The transition won’t last forever and the pets will enrich the lives of all the family members including the children.


Commercial illustration is symbolic of the transition of a pets place in the family when children are added

This week I saw a car commercial that was trying to sell the versatility of the car by accommodating several stages of life (young couple with a dog, to a family with children). It begins with the couple in the front and the dog’s place is in the next row-with seats (windows too). Then the family adds children and the children take the dog’s spot in the middle and the dog gets relegated to the back cargo area. The simple illustration of the dog being ousted by the kids and relegated to the back is very symbolic of what typically happens when a couple has children. While the life transition was marked by a subtle change in the commercial it illustrated a real and powerful truth-when people have children-pets take the back seat.That’s what is supposed to happen as children come first but all too often families that once had time for their pets and doted on them become frustrated and want to surrender their animals when they have children.

Our transition: the vet warned us often pets get less exercise and eat more table scraps when children are added

Winston, our lab-chow mix was our first child, now he is number three in line. We still love him as much as the day we found him but he doesn’t get as much attention. Since kids we haven’t been to the dog park or taken him on many errands. He doesn’t get walked as frequently, he eats more human food and sadly his neediness sometimes throws me over the edge and I get mad at him.

In the time of transition, many families consider giving up their animals but keeping them is usually the best for ALL animals

Having children can be overwhelming and hard. Some families consider finding other homes for their pets when they have children for a variety of different reasons. If you are one of those families I hope you will research support programs before displacing your pet(s) as their best option most likely is remaining with you. We already have a major pet overpopulation problem with 3-4 million animals euthanized a year* (ASPCA) so please consider keeping your pet(s) and asking for help. There are a lot of behaviors that can easily be corrected with the aid of a professional.

family catThe hard transition won’t last forever and life with pets is much richer for all including your children

Life hopefully won’t always be so hard and your pets can be a meaningful part of raising your kids. Winston has been amazing with the kids and we are so thankful to have him as part of our family. He instinctually knows that the kids are different and has a higher tolerance with them. For example if they grab his tail or accidentally fall on him, he just tries to get out of the way and doesn’t retaliate.

I love the kinship our children have developed with our pets, how comfortable they are around all animals and the level of responsibility they have assumed in caring for our pets. Our eldest frequently says “I miss Sadie (our late cat), I want her to come back from heaven.” One of our daughters will go out of her way to follow anyone who has a dog so she can ask if she can pet him/her. They often fight over who gets to feed the dog and give him treats. I can’t imagine our lives without animals! They have enriched our lives in countless ways and the kids have learned the awesome responsibility of caring for a pet.

Free downloadable resource covering preparing your pets before bringing home a new baby, “raising kids around pets” and “health and disease concerns”.

If you are experiencing a difficult transition or are about to have children there is a great free resource available from the American Humane Association. It’s called “Pet Meets Baby, A guide for bringing children home to pets.” The Downloadable pdf is available at and the website link

*Approximately 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, and approximately 3 million to 4 million are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats). ASPCA Pet Statistics,

Photo of Girl and Cat By: Marjie Smith

Additional Resources:
“Introducing Your Pet and New Baby”, July 24, 2012, The Humane Society of The United States