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David Bukhart, 25, of Montoursville, believes that owning a pet teaches children valuable life lessons.
Bukhart is the father of a 2-year old girl and owner of two beagle basset hound mix dogs. As his child has grown, he has watched her interact with his animals and taken note of the unique bond formed between her and the dogs.
"She tries to ride them, and sometimes can get a little too excited around them, but they're very patient with her, even when they're annoyed. They recognize that she is a 'human puppy' and want to care for her," Bukhart said.
He believes that pet ownership is an important right of passage during childhood that teaches children how to be caring, gentle companions.
"Every kid should have some type of animal while growing up. I would even say it's necessary for kids, next to having a loving father and mother to take good care of them and raise them correctly," Bukhart said.
"Animals accept you for who you are, they never judge you and just want to be there for you. Children respond to that," he added.
Unlike relationships built with family and friends, the relationship between a child and his or her pet is a much more meditative experience, due to this unconditional love and acceptance from the animal.
"Take making friends, for example. Children are always judging things because they're trying to learn more about the world around them. They recognize what they do and don't like, and they'll let everyone around them know about it," he said, laughing.
"But you don't need to validate yourself for your pet. Animals accept you exactly as you are," he said.
In addition, pets need to be fed, played with and exercised daily. Doing that teaches children responsibility and how to set a schedule for their tasks.
For many children, the concept of mortality is first realized after the death of a beloved pet. Though painful, Bukhart also believes it has immense value.
"When a pet dies, that is a very clear message, even for very young children. The goldfish that used to swim in this bowl is no longer here, and it is not going to come back. The only thing to do is remember it fondly. Many things in life are like that, they are wonderful until their time passes, but we learn how to move on," Bukhart said.