‘Pets give unconditional love. They teach children to care for another being,
to love and to respect’ – mum Kate
When he’s not gnawing the Lego, six-month-old Alfie is helping his family stay physically and emotionally healthy.
Melbourne mum Kate says she and her family – kids Sofie and Tom and husband Matt – are “totally in love” with the Miniature Schnauzer pup. And Alfie returns the favour unconditionally.
“The kids adore Alfie. They love getting him up for a cuddle in the morning and they will rush into the house to see him after school or day care,” Kate says. “He is a much loved family member – when he's not eating pieces of their Lego.”
RSPCA Australia says pets are essential for keeping us healthy and happy; with about $3.86 billion in health expenditure saved annually.
Veterinarian Dr Rod Sharpin says spending time playing with or simply patting a pet can lift your spirits, help you to relax and de-stress from a busy day.
He says growing up with a dog during infancy may also help to strengthen immune systems and reduce the risk of allergies.
"Pets not only provide us with unconditional love and a welcoming tail-wag when we walk through the door each day; they make fantastic companions and help improve the general wellbeing of us humans," Dr Sharpin says.
"Whether it's by making us get off the couch for a daily walk, introducing us to strangers at the local dog park, or teaching us patience during puppy-school classes, pets add value to our lives in a huge variety of ways. They are also there for us when we need an ear to listen or a cuddle after a hard day.”
Kate says it’s a team effort to care for Alfie, with the kids helping feed and walk him once or twice a day.
“It’s important with young kids to get them out and active but also to give them an appreciation of what it takes to care” she says. “Alfie also continues to teach them how to be and to play without the intervention of adults or technical devices.”
Alfie joined the family as an eight-week-old pup and has become an integral part of their life.
“Caring for a dog helps to get us all out for a walk or a play in the park. It also warms your heart to have a cuddle on the couch at the end of a long day,” Kate says. “Pets give unconditional love. They teach children to care for another being, to love and to respect. Having a pet has also taught our children how to start dealing with death and grief.
“Matt and I both grew up with dogs, so it was a really easy decision for us. Alfie is the fifth member of our family.”
They’re not alone.
Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with the Australian Companion Animal Council reporting about 33 million dogs, cats, fish and other creatures living in eight million homes.
Roy Morgan Research shows "a higher proportion of us live in households with a dog and/or cat than with a child".
Photos by Andy Drewitt.