Watch Tip: Expecting Families

Posted on January 2nd, 2012 by Anna Nirva

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Be aware that expecting families may be under emotional pressure from family and friends to give away their dogs and cats for safety reasons. This is a very frequent cause of animals entering shelters and pounds. After a few days of stress, confusion and depression, many will sadly lose their lives. With terrible irony, the new human life sometimes results in death to the once-loved family pet.

Advise expecting families that they don’t have to give up their pets

As young families prepare for the most exciting event of their lives, new birth, they are typically deluged with well-meaning advice from every direction. One common piece of advise is to rid the home of dogs and/or cats. Some are concerned that cats will cause health problems with pregnancy. Others are concerned that dogs will attack babies. Still others believe that a new family will not have time or money for pets any longer. If the pet isn’t fully housetrained, that causes clear concern for basic hygiene for everyone but especially for a crawling baby.

Sometimes the expecting families have a change of heart about keeping pets. At the shelter where I volunteer frequently, a pregnant woman callously remarked to staff that “babies and dog hair don’t mix” as she filled out her paperwork to surrender an clearly worried little Corgi mix.  The woman had no empathy for her dog’s feelings of confusion. If only she knew how animals suffer when separated from their family and when they suddenly find themselves trapped in wire cages enveloped by strange noises and smells.

You might be able to offer a different perspective as an animal lover. Our farming heritage provides one such point. Many generations of farmers and herders around the world have managed to raise healthy children surrounded by various animals large and small. While keeping animals is not without risk, adult knowledge and common sense prevails to keep youngsters safe. Young veterinarians provide another perspective; they typically don’t give up their pets when pregnant, yet they are more aware of the risks due to their profession. Remind them that children learn responsibility at a young age by helping to care for family pets; they learn compassion and empathy if guided appropriately by parents and older siblings. They experience the deep joy of connecting with a special animal.

Provide resources to expecting families

If you are close to the expecting family with a pet or pets, think about offering some support. You might be able to walk the dog on a schedule or offer extra help when introducing the pets to the newly arrived baby. You might offer help with housetraining if needed. You might offer to regularly clean the cat box (to prevent exposure to toxoplasmosis), if another family member isn’t available.

See these resources online and share with expecting families: