14/09/2012 07:25 BST | Updated 13/11/2012 05:12 GMT

Pets and Children: Why Every Child Should Own a Pet

It's not always practical to own a pet, especially in cities: it's undoubtedly a sign of responsibility to not acquire one, when the environment and resources to give an animal a good life are not there. Personally I have always thought that it's a huge shame when a child grows up without the experience of looking after a pet- a cat, a dog, a rabbit, a hamster; interacting with animals is always precious. There are so many reasons why a child should own a pet! Here are a few!

• BONDING AGENT: I can't tell you how many times our family gathered around our cats, terrapins, dogs I was looking after, various hamsters we had over the years. It's a fact for example that owning a dog opens up a world of social interaction that would otherwise not be there: people stop and talk in the park! Then there are dog classes and clubs; there are informal gatherings and social activities centred on pet ownership. Pets though are also family bonding agents: we have spent quite a few merry afternoons around a playful cat or dog!

• RESPECT FOR SENTIENT BEINGS: this is a great lesson in empathy. The child soon learns that there is a world beyond 'I': there are other beings with feelings and emotions and needs. Taking care of a pet is an amazing learning experience, which tells the child that we respect others because we care about them. A friendship with an animal is devoid of all the trappings we (silly humans!) are victim of; the animal sees us for what we really are 'inside', emotionally and mentally. An animal 'senses' us. Have you noticed how pets seem to know instinctively who they can trust? It's not by pure chance!

• POSITIVE EFFECT ON THE EMOTIONS: studies show that stroking a cat has a calming effect! Apparently the frequency of 'purring' is the same as the one for 'healing'. Emotionally speaking, having a pet companion makes a huge difference for us humans: pets seem to be able to relax us and make us happy with their presence. They also have 'healing' properties, and this is recognised by the medical profession, who now allow pets to visit patients in hospital (patients seem to recover much faster). This doesn't surprise me. The healing process ultimately rests on the powers of the body itself: yes, medicines will help fight infection and support the body, but it's the body itself that does the 'job', so to speak. So if we are in an emotional/mental state of relaxation and contentment, it's more likely that we will allow the body to use its resources to

fight illness and to support recovery.

• A LINK TO NATURE: people often lose that when living in cities, even cities that have a lot of green, like London. Owning a pet is a reminder of that precious link. As animals always behave instinctively, it's a good opportunity to teach your child to observe their pet. Children learn about animals in the natural environment through pets: it's good to know that there is a bigger world beyond the grey walls of the city.

• PETS GIVE US THE GREATEST GIFT: last but not least! They teach us about unconditional love. They are not wealthy, they don't come with a group of interesting friends and they can't say charming things. The only thing they have to give is their presence: yet, every pet owner will know how empty the house feels without their pet!