Kids and Pets – the Perfect Combination: A Conversation with Devon Smith, Executive Director of St. Frances Animal Center

By Leslie Moore

Devon Smith, the energetic leader of St. Frances Animal Center, is passionate about her work and loves talking about how our pets enrich our lives. “There is so much research to indicate how good pets are for kids,” Devon told me when I asked her to talk about families adopting a shelter pet. “Kids who have a dog or cat have fewer allergies and actually get sick less often. Pet ownership improves kids’ self-confidence, and their ability to relate to other people.  Children on the autism spectrum can also greatly benefit from the one-on-one relationship with an animal.”

There are so many reasons to adopt a new four-legged family member, but Devon wants to make sure you set yourself up for success. “It’s important to assess your resources in order to make a successful match,” Devon began. “Parents need to think about several things before adopting – How much time do you have? Do you have a yard or do you live in an apartment or town home? How old are your children?” As a shelter worker, Devon sees the tragedy of unsuccessful adoptions. “It’s hard to adopt an animal and then realize it’s not going to work out. Adopting an animal and then returning it can be hard on the animal and the child. It doesn’t teach your child the correct way to bring an animal into the family.”

Children under the age of six should always be supervised with any animal and taught to respect the animal’s body language. “It’s important to talk to your child about how animals communicate with us,” Devon said. “Teach them how to pet their dog or cat, and how to discern when the animal is not happy.” She also stresses that young children are not going to be able to be responsible for all of the animal’s care – it’s just not going to happen. “Parents have to be ultimately responsible while teaching their child how to be a good pet owner.”

Shelters like St. Frances Animal Center and other animal rescue organizations have trained staff to help you choose the perfect new addition to your family. “Give the shelter an idea of what you’re looking for – think about size, energy level and what type of pet you’d like, whether a dog or a cat or even a guinea pig or ferret.” She adds that dogs usually involve more work – they have to be trained and walked every day, requiring more attention than cats or other animals. “Most shelters can recommend which dogs are best for children. We know our animals.”

“I wish more people would consider adopting a senior pet,” Devon said emphatically. “Adopting a cute puppy is fun, but if you don’t train them properly, you will end up with an unruly one-year-old that is hard to handle. Senior dogs are already trained, more laid back and generally easier for an active family.”

If you’re not sure about adopting, volunteering with your child is a great place to start. St. Frances Animal Center encourages children to volunteer at the shelter and has ongoing programs for kids and their parents to learn how to interact appropriately with animals. Children can read to animals or participate in organized walks during the cooler months.

St. Frances Animal Center is located at 125 North Ridge Road in Georgetown.  Call 843-546-0780 or visit www.sfanimals.org to find out more about how to help an animal in need!

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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