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Our 2 Year Old Hurt A Gerbil At The Pet Store. Help!!!

by Celad
(Syracuse, NY )

We just purchased a puppy at our local pet store and we brought her back in 2 weeks later to get her some more toys. We are a multi pet home - 3 cats and now a puppy and previously ferrets.

While we were there our 2 year old daughter became very interested in the gerbils that were in an open cage, just far enough out of her reach that she couldn't reach the Gerbils even standing on her tippy toes. There were other children around the Gerbil cage who were petting and handling the Gerbils.

A ferret was being held by an adult at the gerbil cage and one of the pet store workers was demonstrating some techniques on how to handle the Ferret. I was paying attention to the instructions of the pet store workers demonstration and my daughter did as well.

No longer than a minute later my daughter some how had a gerbil in her hands. She had the gerbil in one hand, her hand was around its body with its cute head poking through her pointer finger and thumb.

As soon as I saw this I put her hand back over the cage and asked her to put the Gerbil back into it's cage. When I asked this she began to squeeze the Gerbil hard, we think in defiance. I asked her several times to let go of the Gerbil as I tried to gently pry her fingers from her firm grasp around the Gerbil so I didn't hurt the gerbil in the process.

As I did this she squeezed the Gerbil harder, Within a minute I was able to get the Gerbil free but it had sustained an injury, I took our daughter out of the pet store and immediately told her what she had just did was wrong and that she now had hurt an animal.

My wife and I were mortified. My wife stayed back with our puppy to buy the toys we got since we abruptly had to leave, A pet store worker told my wife that because of our daughter squeezing the Gerbil it had a dislocated eye that was bulging out and was in a state of shock, not moving and standing still.

She obviously hurt the Gerbil, we don't think it was intentional but none the less this action had very real consequences. We talked with her and now we are going to have her make a card to the pet store to say she is sorry for what she did.

Other than this does anybody have any advice on how to make her more sensitive to small animals and how to better handle them when and if she does come across the same situation again. Or should we be paying closer attention for other issues that could come of this? We hope to get insightful and helpful advice on how to deal with this.

We thank you in advance.

Comments for Our 2 Year Old Hurt A Gerbil At The Pet Store. Help!!!

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Kids Learning To Be Kind To Animals
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Celad,

Gosh this is every parent's nightmare, how horrible for you. We have a similar question where a 4 year old killed the family Gerbil, and it certainly generated some comments, some of which I actually deleted as they were very judgmental and unhelpful.

Four Year Old Killed Family Gerbil

It sounds to me like you have handled it as best as possible under the circumstances. I think you are right, the squeezing was defiance in not wanting to let go the cute gerbil, not an intention to hurt the poor little thing.

Does A Two Year Old Understand?

A two year old is just learning about consequences, but really has no concept of death or really even injury. They do understand that something hurts - like when they fall over or bump their head. But taking that learning to outside of themselves and understanding they have to be gentle with other creatures is something they have to learn and understand and unfortunately the consequences of that can be disastrous. A two year old is totally egocentric, learning empathy and understanding takes some time.

Having pets is one of the best way for kids to learn that, to take care of something else, to be responsible and of course the joy of pets is immeasurable. As the parents it is our job to protect and make sure our pets are safe from harm from over excited or rough little ones, or even kids who have figured out they have power of their pets when the rest of the family boss them around. Some kids do sometimes do sneaky and unkind things to their pets when they learn they have that power. Just like older brothers or sisters sometimes make their little sister cry.

Of course that is something to be aware of and to emphasize kindness and care as you are doing. But I don't think you need to stress out that your daughter is now heading for cruel behavior to animals.

Even the concept of being sorry is not an easy one for a two year old to grasp. A two year old will feel bad - that Mummy and Daddy are cross with her, or mad that she can't have the gerbil, or sad that people around her are unhappy. She will start to understand and connect that it is sad that the gerbil got hurt, and that she hurt it by squeezing too hard.

Having her send a card is a good way for her to start learning about making amends in some way. Hard lessons, and very hard as a parent when a little life is involved. I am sure you are beating yourself up for not preventing it, but unfortunately something as tragic as this can happen in the blink of an eye.

I will say though, there is some responsibility lying with the pet shop in that the Gerbil was not secure and out of reach or little hands - even though you thought it was!

It sounds to me like you are a very caring and loving family, and this is a hard experience for you all.

Take care,
Annie D :)

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