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The cat and kitten rescue organization with which I am affiliated loves placing cats and kittens rescued from the streets into homes. However, we discourage adoption of kittens by parents who want to give a cat or kitten to a child as a surprise birthday or Christmas gift.

Does the youngster receiving a pet as a surprise gift realize that a pet is not a toy to be cast aside when the child gets tired of playing with it? Pets require attention to their physical and emotional needs as long as they live. They are a responsibility. Thus, the child who at an early age learns, with parental supervision, to carry out the responsibility of providing for a pet's needs is a child who grows up better prepared to carry out the responsibilities of life.

Moreover, by caring for a pet, a child learns that animals such as cats and dogs are more like people than they are different in their emotional makeup. Pets feel lonely when their human companions leave them. They feel fear in unfamiliar or threatening situations. Once they have learned to trust a person they can develop love for that person, love that rivals human love in intensity. When a child learns that the pet in his home has self awareness and an emotional life, the child realizes that a homeless animal, or person, also has emotions and should not be allowed to suffer.

Finally, most of the time pets do not outlive their owners. A child who becomes emotionally attached to a pet will eventually have to bury that pet. Writing from experience, I know that no matter how many times someone endures the death of a beloved pet, the emotional pain is always as sharp as it was at the time of the first loss. But the lesson children learn when a pet dies is that the people and animals that come into the child's life will not be there forever. Therefore, pets, and people, must be shown as much love as possible while they can feel it.

In other words, the lesson pets teach is that love should not be saved for later because there may be no later. This is a priceless lesson.

About the columnist

Ralph Carbone is the president of Feline Lifeline, a nonprofit organization that helps homeless cats and kittens in the Upstate by feeding, vaccinating and spaying/neutering feral and homeless cats. Learn more at https://www.felinelifelinesc.com.

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