Put a child and a dog, cat, hamster or turtle in a room, and you are guaranteed to hear laughter and excitement. Creatures both large and small teach, delight and offer a special kind of companionship that children love, but did you realise that while pets often intrigue children and adults alike, caring for an animal provides valuable life experience? 
“When a family decides they want to add an additional member to their unit (that new member being a pet), there can be a myriad of benefits for the family,” says Madeeha Afridi, Counselling Psychologist at The LightHouse Wellbeing Centre. 
Families have reported that having a pet has had numerous benefits such as learning nurturing skills, gaining a sense of responsibility, greater family harmony, as well as a companion to lift their moods. 

Learning to be responsible
Adding a pet to the family is a great way to teach children to look after another living creature. They also learn to appreciate the work and dedication involved in caring for that animal. For parents who want to adopt creative ways to teach their children valuable life skills such as responsibility and ownership, getting a pet can be useful, advises Madeeha. 
Pets help children develop a higher sense of dependability. This can include duties assigned to feeding, walking, cleaning as well as caring for their pet’s general well-being. As children become reliable, this skill is transferred to other areas of their life such as academics, their attitude towards their siblings, as well as general contribution to the home. 

Educational support 
For young kids, learning to read is a big challenge, especially if they are reading out loud and making mistakes. Bringing therapy animals, mainly dogs, into schools helps kids learn in a non-judgmental environment. One such programme — Reading Dogs — is creating waves in the UAE. 
A brainchild of Karalynn Thomson, Managing Director of the Animal Agency, this programme kick-started in September and within the first three months Reading Dogs had held over 100 sessions and their dogs have listened to over 3,700 children read. 
“It’s been wonderful to see the reaction of children seeing a dog in school,” says Thomson. “The children have really struck bonds with the dogs, and they look forward to seeing them each week.” 
So far, parents have received the programme really well, and many have spoken about the increased enthusiasm they have seen in their child’s reading since the reading dog initiative was brought to the school. Currently, Reading Dogs UAE works with five schools and is in talks to work with many more this year. 

Fitness Fix 
While studying is important, pets also help kids improve their motor skills and also increase their overall activity and fitness levels. This is more pertinent in this digital age where more and more children are getting attached to their tablets and laptops and are not spending enough time playing with their friends or being outdoors. 
Whether it is taking the dog for a walk or playing with the cat in the garden, children are more likely to spend time outdoors with pets. This way, their playtime with the dog or cat becomes a good workout and contributes to them being physically fit in a way that is fun. 

Special needs kids
Pets offer unconditional love, which can be soothing when feeling isolated. For children, pets are often a wonderful catalyst for socialising as they are more prone to approach and interact with another child who is playing with an animal. Pets can be the bridge between a less socially outgoing child and other potential playmates. Take the case of nine-year-old Teeju, who is autistic and physically challenged since birth. Last year at Al Noor’s Annual Fun Fair there were turtles, rabbits, goats, dogs and cats,” shares his doting mum Vijaya Lakshmi, Business Analyst in Dubai. “Teeju took a shine to the rabbit and was so excited.” 
As Teeju is wheelchair-bound, Lakshmi is now considering getting a dog for her son so he can have a companion to play with and who can be with him 24/7. With a dog around, she is confident her son will be more active and alert.