How Pets Can Help Children Through Hard Times

how pets help children

When I was fifteen and a half, I found out that we were moving away from our small, mid-western town to Florida. I was in the middle of my sophomore year and in love with my first boyfriend. I was devastated, to say the least, and was begging my folks to reconsider. They had their reasons, which made no sense to me, and of course, we ended up going. Not only were we leaving, but we were leaving the day after Christmas. We spent New Year’s Day in a strange town. My two siblings and I were miserable.

We had a pure-blooded German Shepherd named Max. We got him as a pup, and he was just a little over a year old. My cousin and her husband from Pennsylvania were stationed at an Army base near our home, and they came to visit every weekend. My cousin held that dog and babied him from the time he was a puppy, while Dad trained Max to be obedient. Max learned obedience and he learned affection. He was very protective of his family.

In Florida, we moved to a place in the county with three acres. Max had plenty of space to run and he loved the freedom. Every thirty minutes, he would make his rounds along the fence lines to ensure that we were safe. There was a small natural spring that came into the property, and it opened up into a nice little pond. I spent all my free time sitting there and crying. After Max made his rounds he came and sat beside me and put his paw on my leg, nuzzled me with his nose, and did his best to comfort me. He seemed to know how unhappy I was.

I began to try and acclimate to my new environment, mostly just going to school. A few months went by, and all the time my dog was by my side whenever I was at home. I began to make a friend or two, and then a new boyfriend came into the picture. My dad traveled and was not home during the week. In many ways, Max took the place of my dad. When anyone would come through the gate in their car, he was right there barking a warning. No one wanted to get out of the car until someone came outside. When my friends came by, I had to tell Max that it was okay, that they were my friends. If I did not approve visitors, they could not exit their vehicles.

I loved that Max was always guarding the perimeter of our land.  I could hear him at night circling the house and checking each window he passed. Nothing got by Max, not armadillos, not snakes, not any kind of critter, and certainly not any intruders. It was traumatic moving to a new place, a new home, and having my dad gone all the time.When Daddy was gone it was so comforting to know that Max was on duty.

After awhile Max got to know my boyfriend and would let him get out of the car without me being there. However, there was one thing my dog never would tolerate. He refused to let my boyfriend kiss me goodnight. If we wanted to get a goodnight kiss, we had to go inside or stay in the car. The first time we tried to catch a kiss at the door, Max ran up and pushed us apart. He put his paws on my boyfriend’s shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes. He made a low growling sound to let him know that there would be none of that going on during his watch. It made me laugh, but terrified my guy. After that we knew not to kiss in front of Max. My Daddy had taught him well.

I just cannot really describe the feeling of love, protection, and comfort that Max gave me during this unhappy time in my life. It was not that Momma did not try to console me, because she did. But no words seemed to help. She did her best to comfort me, and I do not discount her love. There was just something about knowing Max was there to protect us . He made his powerful presence known at all times. The Lord knew I needed a little extra help at that time, and he used Max to fill that position.

Max was a constant source of entertainment, and he loved to play. We had a calf and young bull we kept on our land. Max loved to play with that bull. The bull would butt him with his baby horns, and Max would run back and forth trying to get him to play. It was fun to watch, but as that bull got bigger and his horns got longer, it was kind of scary. We knew they were playing, but it sure did not look like it sometimes.

My brothers and I would play in the pond a lot. I would paddle out on top of the surf board or in the row boat, because I was scared of the water moccasins. Max would sit on the bank and watch me to be sure I was okay. My brothers decided to tease him, by pretending to hit me or try to pull me into the water. I would whine for them to stop, watching Max the whole time. He would bark and run back and forth along the bank. He didn’t like getting into the pond, but if we kept it up, he would dive in and come after my brothers, growling as he swam. He would try to push them away or drag them away by their clothes. It was the sweetest thing to watch that dog try and take care of me. While he protected the boys, too, if they needed it, he kept a special eye on me.

Max was one of my best friends as a teenager. I think that he kept me from going into a deep depression. Sometimes all it takes is to have someone looking out for you, even if he doesn’t say a word. That dog was so faithful and caring.  He made me feel secure. Sometimes as parents, we do not even know what our kids are feeling, because they do not know how to articulate it to us. Many times an animal’s love and devotion can be just the key to healing a broken heart or a bad situation. Love comes in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes the Lord sees fit to give us a special friend in the form of a pet. I will never forget my Max. Even today, when I think about him, he still has the ability to heal my heart.

Author Bio:

Elizabeth Reed is a freelance writer and a resident blogger at She particularly enjoys writing about parenting, childcare, health and wellness. In addition, she is an expert consultant on issues related to household management and kids.

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  1. SoCalLynn says

    Having a pet works for adults, too. My heart was absolutely broken after my dad was killed by a suspected drunk driver who fled the scene, leaving my dad to die on the side of the road. My daughter had been asking for a dog for several years, but we weren’t “dog people.” A couple of months after my dad’s passing, my husband and I said YES to getting a dog, because I didn’t want to be the parent that always said no; life is too short. I had lots of criteria, though, but God sent us the perfect little rescue dog who met every demand. He is a joy and so wonderful. He definitely helped me through my grief with his cute personality, love, and faithfulness. I know he was a gift from God during my most difficult time.

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