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The cat’s contribution to family life

Growing up with Shimmer
There are many benefits to owning a pet: some we anticipated, others we have come to appreciate over time. By Kate Barber

We got a kitten during the first lockdown – a little girl cat (we thought), who turned out to be a boy. “Shimmer” is a dull grey colour, but we think he has a rather dazzling nature, and the kids love him. Two years, several vet bills and many scratches later, I’m considering the value of having pets. 

They teach responsibility

We told ourselves that having a cat would teach the kids about responsibility. And it has. Sort of. The kids love: 

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  • feeding him (too much and too often…)
  • teaching him tricks (despite his lack of interest or progress)
  • giving him pills when he needs them. (He’s not great at defending himself in a fight and has had a couple of nasty wounds, but he is amazing at taking pills.)

They provide comfort and companionship

We regularly see the calming effect of owning a pet, especially when our youngest (4) is sad, stressed or angry. If Shimmer is in the right mood – relaxed, rather than frisky – just being around him and stroking his fur helps her regulate those big feelings and brightens her mood. 

They promote nurturing

Our girls love playing ‘families’ with their dolls, but it’s even more meaningful having a living creature to love and care for. For kids, boys particularly, who don’t tend to engage in such nurturing imaginary play, I expect that having an animal to care for would be especially beneficial.

They help with learning

Our middle daughter (7) reads in bed, with Shimmer next to her. We’ve noticed that she tends to get more stressed reading to us or with her big sister than with the cat – there’s always the risk that we will ‘help’ her, but Shimmer just purrs away contentedly. 

They’re good for family relationships

Shimmer is part of our family and, like all loving pet owners, we talk about and interact with him a lot. I imagine if we owned a dog, we would plan outings to include them, and the girls would probably have more success teaching them tricks. 

They promote friendships

By giving kids something to talk about, pets provide a common interest that can spark friendships. Our middle daughter has even started a Cat Club: the perfect extra-curricular activity for a child who loves a) planning events, b) hanging out with friends, c) party food, and d) cats! The kids take turns to share facts about cats, watch funny cat videos and spend a lot of time searching, usually unsuccessfully, for Shimmer.

Having a pet is a big commitment. Sometimes they poop or vomit inside. Sometimes they get into fights and get abscesses and need antibiotics. It’s definitely not all fun and games.

Shimmer doesn’t do a lot. He isn’t that great at ‘cleaning up’ spilt breakfast, and we haven’t ever seen him catch a mouse. However, for our girls, he is a reading buddy, companion through tough times, the (shimmering) star of Cat Club, and so much more.

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