The Importance of Teaching Kids and Families How to Treat Pets

By Jena Ball of CritterKin

Animals have been tugging at my heart since I was four. That’s when my father tucked a tiny dachshund puppy into the pocket of his winter coat and smuggled her into our house. By the time my mother discovered the little intruder, fast asleep on my pillow, the deed was done. Heidi was part of our family.

Unfortunately, my father hadn’t done his homework. Dachshunds are notoriously nervous dogs, and Heidi was no exception. Being petted, carried upside down, and dressed in doll clothes by three little kids made her terribly anxious. By the time she was a year old, she was hiding beneath the couch whenever we appeared. When she started nipping our fingers, my parents made the heartbreaking decision to return her to the shelter.

Not long after Heidi’s departure, my father went looking for another, kid-proof puppy. He came home with a cocker spaniel/beagle mix whose bright orange coat instantly earned her the name “Ginger.” Ginger’s easygoing, up-for-anything personality made her an ideal playmate. My parents also had the good sense to make feeding, exercising and cleaning up after her part of our chores, so we learned that dogs require constant care. However, the lessons Ginger taught me about being human run much deeper. I firmly believe that I’m a more tolerant, caring and responsible person thanks to Ginger, but I wondered if anyone else felt the same.

“In the get-ahead pressure cooker that is modern childhood, how do kids learn about being kind, caring, and nurturing?” asks Gail F. Melson, Ph.D., Professor of Child Development and Family Studies at Purdue University and columnist for Psychology Today. “Caring for a pet responsibly may well be an important training ground for children to gain skills in care-giving that will carry into adulthood,” she concludes. Likewise, a quick, informal survey of family and friends revealed that almost everyone thought pets were important teachers. Most also had a story to tell about a family pet. Not all, however, ended as happily as mine.

Les’s story about how his first dog tragically passed away brought me to tears, but it also got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to teach kids and their families about responsible, loving pet care before they adopt?

The answer to that question popped into my head as I was absentmindedly doodling images of puppies on a yellow legal pad. “Critter Kin,” I thought, printing the two words out. “No, CritterKin,” I corrected myself. I liked the way the two words looked when they were combined. The word said exactly what I hoped to do – teach kids that pets (critters) are family (kin).

CritterKin is a story for 6 to 10 year olds about a fun-loving group of mixed breed pups who want to “puppy train” their people. Each dog has practical information about pet care and a larger life lesson to share. For example, Doxie (pictured above) is an energetic fellow who entertains himself by digging up his family’s flower beds.

The story helps kids understand the importance of exercise and how feelings of frustration can result in bad behavior. Doxie is not a bad dog, but he needs understanding, patience and long walks to stop his digging.

The next step in the CritterKin process was to translate the lessons into a mobile app, which is currently in the final stages of production. Versions for cat, bird, horse and reptile lovers are also in the works. However, the thing that continues to inspire and motivate me is how kids and their parents respond to the CritterKin characters and artwork.

I knew I was on the right track when seven-year-old Erin approached me at Starbucks and tried to swipe the drawing of Doxie on my iPad. When nothing happened, he frowned and asked, “Is it broken?” I had to explain that I was still working on the animations, but his slightly embarrassed mom and I exchanged emails so I could let them know when the app was done.

If you’d like to follow our progress, share your stories and join the CritterKin pack visit



susan slater
susan slater5 years ago

Thank you for sharing this! It is really important to educate children and their parents about the reality of choosing the right pet and the responsibility of care. It will develop the children to become better adults in all areas of their lives!

CritterKin does some great work with kids, thank you!

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

compassion is so important

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Ernie Miller
william Miller5 years ago

it is a very good idea to teach animals how to treat all animals.

David V.
David V5 years ago

it is important that kids be taught to respect life, whether human or animal.

Charmaine H.
Charmaine H.5 years ago

I am a big fan of what CritterKin is creating. Stories are a powerful way to help children learn about responsible and loving pet care. Stories engage and connect people, as do animals. I know that Crittekin's mission will impact many lives and help create forever homes for pets.

B Jackson
BJ J5 years ago

Kids need to be taught to respect living things.

Virginia B.
Virginia B5 years ago

As many of us keep saying, pet owners are responsible for the welfare of their pets, and most important is the training: a) of the animal itself, so the prospective owners know what to expect of the specific animal, i.e., physical /psychological limitations, of the breed, etc. and from the initiation of ownership study their particular animal's character traits, physical strengths and weaknesses, and b) monitor themselves to see what their limitations are: are they reliable in feeding, grooming, cleaning up after them? Do they have the patience to deal with them? Can they respect them as surprisingly intelligent and sensitive beings?

Ilona V.
Ilona V5 years ago

Very good article. Thanks for sharing.

Mary B.
Mary B5 years ago

I'm glad this issue of 'dressing dogs and cats up' is being spoken about because this kind of thing was encouraged in the previous generation and to an extent in my own childhood.[Boomer] I think the intent was to teach little girls how to dress a living thing, as in training for motherhood,but then it kept going and to this day, look how many silly people dress their pets for halloween.I'm surprised animals put up with us at all, yet the people who do this will probably say that their pet likes it.It is very easy to treat a pet we've raised from it's babyhood as if it is a child,because they pick up our cues, but an animal on it's own is very different and I think it is important to remember that difference and offer the respect due ,what ever the species is.