Close X
Dogs and Kids
Share this image

7 Ways I Raise My Kids to Respect, Love, and Care for Dogs

Parents must teach their kids how to properly treat animals, but unfortunately many don't. Here are the principles that guide our family and keep our dogs safe.

Kezia Willingham  |  Nov 13th 2015


I work full-time and am a single parent to two human children. We have five dogs and a number of rescued cats. I am also trying to build my writing career. To say I am busy would be an understatement. However, the things that matter most to me are my children and my pets.

My children have an 11-year age difference. Zinnia was in high school and Justin was in preschool when we adopted our first cat, Miko. Eventually we adopted our first dog, May Belle. Not too long after that, my husband left our home and my teenage daughter stepped up to help raise her younger brother. It’s not ideal, but we make the best of it. Running an active household with pets and kids is a huge responsibility — one that fills me with passion and inspiration (and a little bit of crazy).

IMG_3775

Zinnia and Justin playing with May Belle. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

Being that I frequently feel overwhelmed, I have compassion for other parents in similar situations. But I don’t feel sympathy for those who allow their children to abuse or willfully mistreat animals or those who don’t pay close enough attention to interactions between their children and dogs, resulting in the dogs getting hurt.

With that in mind, here are some principles that have guided our family to keep our dogs safe:

1. I’ve raised my kids to respect all animals

Zinnia and puppy

Zinnia with puppy Magnum on adoption day. She paid his adoption fee with her own money from her job. (Photo by Kezia Willingham.)

I am not one to brag about my parenting skills, but I am pleased to say that my children demonstrate respect for animals. Teaching empathy is a big part of my parenting agenda, and it seems that both of my kids have it for animals.

Zinnia, for her part, has a strong connection to animal rescue. Pursuing this path is a huge bond we share. She was actually the reason we started volunteering at the county animal shelter together a couple of years ago. This has led her to an interest in one day becoming a veterinarian. She loves dogs so much that she excitedly sends me text messages on her lunch break if she happens to see a cute dog.

2. They learn from their mistakes

IMG_3840

Justin with our dog Lilly. (Photo by Kezia Willingham.)

I’m going to be very clear here: My parenting approach would generally be described as permissive. I let my son eat in my bed. I don’t impose Internet time limits on my daughter. They generally bathe when they want to. And they have freedom to refuse the food I prepare for dinner. I have learned over the years that it is best to avoid power struggles with your children unless it is over something critical. Basically, save that battle for when you really need to fight it.

Yes, both of my kids have acted impulsively around our cats or dogs on occasion. But I don’t take it lightly. Unfortunately, part of growing up means making mistakes, and as parents it is our job to teach the right way when they’ve done something wrong.

3. We spend a lot of time together

IMG_4112

Justin and Zinnia in the adoption meet-and-greet room at Yakima Humane Society on Magnum’s adoption day. (Photo by Kezia Willingham.)

One of the other essential aspects of my parenting approach is to build a strong relationship with my kids. Yes, I work a fairly intellectually demanding job, but I come right home after work and dedicate my non-working time to being with my kids.

In 18 years of parenting, I have never hired a babysitter so that I could go out. This does not mean I hover over them every second, but it does mean we spend quality time together every day, which also includes time with our pets.

4. We almost never invite people over

IMG_3920

Me with Lilly. (Photo by Kezia Willingham.)

Some people will conclude that I am antisocial after reading this — and they are right. As far as I can tell, I come from a long line of introverts. My grandparents never had a lot of people at their house, and nor did either of my parents. And neither do I. My kids are introverts, too, probably because of the way they’ve been raised.

One reason we don’t invite people over is that I am tired after a long day of work. My son spends weekends with his dad, so that eliminates potential playdate time. My daughter has friends over sometimes, with my approval. Mostly she just enjoys her space, just like I do. We are probably more selective than the average person in regards to who is permitted to enter our home.This helps eliminate some potential problems with our pets and non-family members.

5. Our dogs are indoor dogs

IMG_4549

Zinnia chilling with Lilly and May Belle. Our dogs are family members, plain and simple. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

We live in a townhouse and have no real yard to speak of, although I know our dogs would love to have one to run around in. This means there are no neighborhood kids trying to pester our dogs, or otherwise mistreating them, because our dogs only go outside when we are with them.

6. Kindness to animals is one of our foremost guiding principles

IMG_8455

Lilly and kitty Pearl love each other. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

I don’t subscribe to a particular religion, but I do firmly believe in being kind to animals. Fortunately, I am seeing this sense of kindness and compassion develop as strong character traits in my children.

Empathy toward animals is one thing I am proud to have helped nurture in my children’s worldview. One of the ways I have taught this principle is through volunteering at the county shelter, visiting shelters, reading books about animal rescue, and talking about the lives our animals had before they came to live with us.

7. Animal rescue has become an integrated part of our life

kids and dogs bed

Our dogs are always with us. Lilly, Daisy, May Belle, Justin, and Zinnia lounging together. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

Zinnia clearly and profoundly has a strong connection to animals and animal rescue, and pursuing this path has brought the two of us together in a way that I am not sure anything else could have. It is a huge bond we share. As for my son, I’ve noticed that when we are out walking the dogs, he’s always the first to spot other cats and dogs!

Some families might be really into sports or beauty pageants or hunting, but my family spends a lot of time involved in animal rescue. What about yours? Tell us in the comments!

Read more commentary:

About Kezia Willingham:  Also known as the Breadwinning Laundry Queen, Kezia lives her busy life with her family, which includes a pack of rescued cats and dogs, in Seattle.  She has a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and a master’s degree in Social Work.  She is a regular columnist for Catster and Dogster and has an essay in Blended: Writers on the Stepfamily Experience by Samantha Waltz. You can follow Kezia on Twitter.