A new study says that military kids with a deployed parent who have a strong emotional connection to a pet are better off emotionally and handle stress better than kids who do not have that pet attachment.
The researchers acknowledged to me that this study essentially gives scientific backing to what they guessed all along: pets are awesome and being close to one is beneficial for kids. They talked to (through an online survey) about 300 military teens. Those who had a strong emotional attachment to a pet were better off on a variety of developmental indicators, including how they handle stress, than those who just had a pet at home.
When we've discussed this issue in the past, it has always been under the flag of "is this fair to the animal?" There seem to be two sides to the issue and a middle ground.
There are people who have no problem owning a pet and then rehoming it when the price tag is too high or moving/keeping it become inconvenient. There are people who own a pet and decide that doing so is a "forever" decision -- regardless of what happens, that pet is part of the family. Then there are people like me, who own a pet, consider it part of the family but have a temporary back-up plan if circumstances become such that keeping her is too costly (in our case, in the unlikely instance that we get stationed overseas, or dog will live on on a dog-heaven farm with my in-laws until we move stateside).
But this study brings up the flip-side of the question: is rehoming your pet harmful to your family?
If, like the study shows, having a close relationship with a pet gives a child greater coping mechanisms, what damage will separating those two bring?
When I was 16-years-old my family decided to rehome my best friend, a Gordon Setter named "Taffy," because keeping her was no longer convenient. Some members of my family had dog allergies, and rather than aggressively treating the allergies, they chose to do away with the allergen. I was not a military brat, but my relationship with that dog was everything to me.
I cannot even describe how heartbroken I was -- and whatever coping mechanisms that dog helped me with did not translate over to dealing with what sure seemed like her death.
I wonder how closely military families consider the fall-out on the child of rehoming a pet (dog, cat, whatever) before doing so? I know when I had previously thought through our plan to temporarily place Chloe with my in-laws should circumstances dictate it, I had not considered how that would really impact my children. This study has definitely made me pause to do so.