Pet Connection: Here are 6 ways kids without pets can be involved with animals

When I met with my accountant recently, he mentioned that his 14-year-old son really wanted a golden retriever. Problem is, my accountant and his wife don’t especially want a dog, especially one that would be their responsibility when their son goes to college in four years.

“I wish there was some way we could have a dog just for the short term,” he said.

Usually, when parents who don’t want a pet ask me about getting one for the kids, I tell them to hold firm: If parents, who have ultimate responsibility for the animal, aren’t interested, I think it’s best for them not to give in to the pleading. In this case, though, I had a suggestion.

“Why don’t you look into raising a guide dog puppy? You get the pup when he’s 8 weeks old, and he goes for formal training when he’s 13 to 15 months old. That would give your son a taste of dog ownership, but you wouldn’t be left holding the leash when he leaves home.” (Visit for more information.)

The following options are some other compromises that may meet the needs of kids and parents alike.

Read to shelter pets: When kids read to animals, the activity provides socialization and human interaction for dogs and cats and improves children’s reading skills. Shelters that offer such programs include Animal Rescue League of Berks County, Pa/; Bitter Root Humane Association in Hamilton, Mont.; and Panhandle Animal Shelter in Ponderay, Idaho. Contact your local shelter, library or public school to see if a program is available in your area, or if they’d like to start one.

Volunteer at a shelter or sanctuary: Depending on a child’s age, he or she may be able to volunteer to help feed, groom or walk shelter pets. Parents may be required to participate as well to provide supervision. Even if they can’t volunteer hands-on with animals at a shelter, kids can raise money with lemonade stands or bake sales or help with set-up and take-down at adoption events.

Go to camp: At Animal Friends Canine Good Manners Camp in Pittsburgh, kids spend five days working with camp counselors to teach shelter dogs the basics of good behavior so they’ll be more adoptable. Critter Camp at Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego offers daylong and weeklong programs that teach animal handling and socialization and let kids explore animal-related careers. Another program to check out is Friends for Life Camp through SPCA LA in Los Angeles. Kids who are interested in becoming veterinarians may want to attend “vet camp.”

Among the veterinary schools that offer camps of up to a week are Auburn, Colorado State, Mississippi State, Ohio State, Purdue, Tufts, University of Georgia, University of Pennsylvania and University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Camps are geared to children of different ages. Search “camps for animal lovers” or “vet camp” to find other options.

Foster kittens: Shelters always need foster homes for kittens, especially during late spring and summer, which is known as “kitten season.”

The buzz

A kitten found inside a mailbox in Edwardsburg, Mich., has a poetic ending to her story: She was adopted by a retired mail carrier. Dan and Millie Shaw were looking for a kitten after the death of their 17-year-old cat, T.J. Now named Mimi, the black and white kitten was taken in by Elkhart County, Ind., organization Here Kitty, Kitty, which treated her for fleas, ear mites, an eye infection and a broken tail. The Shaws heard her story, and Dan knew he wanted to deliver her to a new life.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books.