Dad’s Guide to Pets: The Four Categories You Need to Know

  by Erik Wolgemuth

Worms. Cheetahs. Lizards. Ferrets. Turtles. Dogs. Rolly Pollies. All, at some point in time, have been longingly requested (and sometimes retained) by my kids as a pet.

Kids seem to have an insatiable desire for pets. This desire often finds itself rooted in an animal’s indisputable cuteness (bear cub, sea otter), or in an animal’s ability to disgust you (tarantula, all reptiles, cats), or in an animal’s inability to get away fast enough (daddy long-legs, ants, cricket). Regardless of the reason, you’ve probably fielded the question: Dad, can we keep him?! on a bi-weekly basis.

The good news is that there are quite of variety of ways to address this pet desire and pets can draw out unique, positive behaviors in our kids. Though by no means comprehensive, the following four categories represents a smorgasbord of ways to embrace pets in your dadcraft…

The Stuffed Variety

No, we’re not talking taxidermy (though, I guess, we could be)…this is the ageless appeal of the simple stuffed animal. Stuffed animals in our household have found themselves named, possessing birthdays, having siblings, and needing their own house. Inanimate, stuffed animals are tough to beat (except when they get lost, which they will with alarming regularity and always at the worst moments) and are a good entry into the pet world.

The Captured Variety

Here we’re thinking bugs primarily, and perhaps a cold, sluggishly moving reptile. All it takes is a jar, some time outside (hopefully), a bit of patience and the result…pets. In abundance. Your young capturer will find joy in their resourcefulness and you’ll enjoy the lack of cost and care these pets require. Albus, the [unknown species of] lizard, lived with us for about a month after capture and cost $1.30 in crickets from the pet store. Drawbacks include: escape, lack of longevity, minimal interactivity.

The Low Maintenance (and Cost) Variety

We’re beyond captured here, so some acquisition cost is required, but it’s not much…nor is the work required in keeping them. Ant farms, hermit crabs, beta fish all fit this category. Each will do things that hold attention, each requires a level of responsibility to prevent demise (our first order of ants for our farm froze while in transit; that’s on you Uncle Milton) and will reward that responsibility with decent-length life. At this stage, don’t be surprised to see attachment and affection levels increase in conjunction with life span. The end of a pet’s life begins to sting.

The Long-Term Commitment Variety

Welcome to the big leagues of retrievers, parakeets, bearded dragons, and (unfortunately) pythons. You’ll be buying food for years. You’ll visit the vet (and, as we’ve discovered the hard way with our dog, Ruby, you may be tempted by pet health insurance). You’ll need to find a pet sitter. But you’ll also gain a new member of the family and decades later your kids’ memories will be shaped by the animal in your house.

There is no requirement to progress in these various categories. Perhaps your household is firmly a Captured Pet establishment and movement beyond that category would be foolish (and regretted immediately). Conversely, you may start and stay in the Long-Term category for as long as you practice good dadcraft. Regardless, embracing pets in all their different forms can be a delight to you and your kids. It will spark new forms of creativity, stir love and compassion, and teach kids that they do in fact have the ability to clean up poop.


Maybe a family pet is a way to visible prove (or at least test) your resolution to “Assume that your kids are more capable this month than they were last month.” Maybe a pet enters your household via some creative solo time with a kid. Or maybe thinking about a new pet actually makes your want to defend television-watching for your kids.

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Photo by Adli Wahid on Unsplash