Saturday, September 13, 2014


I have done adoption homestudies for 28 years. In all those years, the issue that makes me smile the most is the one about pets. Being an animal lover, I personally love pets. Well, not snakes or crawly things… but cats, dogs, rabbits, caged furry rodents – all fine with me. Of course, I had a cat, a dog, hamsters, gerbils, fish, turtles and more,  and cared for school pets over vacations.  My kids have had a parade of pets, too. And yes, we cared for the class frogs, birds and guinea pigs when school was closed.

I am certainly not objective when it comes to pets.  Just love them. They are more accepting than people. They truly know the what  unconditional love is. But everyone makes his  own decision about having pets.

The question that arises is should I tell the social worker I have a pet? What if they don’t like cats? Will they turn me down as an adoptive parent if I have a dog?  The issue is making sure your child is safe around your pet.

I remember many years ago a couple telling a colleague   if their child was allergic to their cats, they would get the child allergy shots. And  If the child had asthma, they would get them a nebulizer. Really?? As an animal lover, I get it – but really?? With their pets their prime focus, she  helped them reconsider their adoption plans.

Another time a single woman stated she would keep her child in one room and her dog in another - if he did  not “get along” with her child.  I don’t think so… After a lot of discussion, she understood I was watching out for the safety of her child and serenity of her family. She decided to take her dog to training classes before her child arrived and was amazed at how well behaved he could be. Her adoption was successful. Her dog and son the best of friends, although she was always aware of their whereabouts and never left them unsupervised.

When my older daughter took her first steps and the dog ran across the floor growling at her,  I knew a decision had to be made. I knew what we had to do. Teary beyond belief, we found another home for our beloved pet. Our daughter grew and blossomed. The dog adjusted well, but I missed him. When my daughters were older, we got another dog (actually two)..

I love pets. I love my kids. As a mother and social worker my job is to make sure children are safe, secure and healthy. If anything will jeopardize that, I have to speak up. I have helped thousands of families adopt. I have helped them make many tough decisions. For some it was about adopting a particular child or deciding what attorney or agency to trust with their adoption process. For others, it was the difficult, often heart wrenching decision about pets.

If you have pets, make sure they are good with infants and children.  Start leaving baby items, powder-smelling blankets, and small toys around your home. Dog and infant toys look surprisingly alike. Teach your dog not to touch them. Teach your cat not to enter a room (the future nursery or child’s room). Leave small plates of snacks out and teach your pet to leave them alone. Teach dogs to “sit”, “stay”, “leave it” (anything they should not touch or smell), “wait” and “get down”. Take your dog on walks near parks or playgrounds so they get used to the sound and movements of children. Never leave your pet and child unattended.

Many pet owners make good parents. With pets being many a parent’s “first child”, they have developed patience, learned what unconditional love really is, and have experienced the amazing feelings of dependence and companionship. But parenting a child is different.

Children are totally dependent. They will not go lie down on a pillow and entertain themselves for quite some time. That is your job – to protect, play, nourish, sooth, teach, bathe and love - day after day for many years to come. And once they are in bed,  then you can groom, play and love your pet. 

Kathy Ann Brodsky, LCSW is a social worker, adoptive mom and advocate for ethical adoption practice. She has prepared thousands of adoption homestudies, counseled adoptive parents and parents-to-be, and has trained professionals to work with adoptive families. She was named an “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption in 2001 and has a private practice in New York City. She is also Director of the Ametz Adoption Program of JCCA. She can be reached at