Pet education at Pet Expo

Emma Murphy, aged 13, has a dog, a cat,a rabbit, guinea pigs and hamsters. Last weekend. she gave talks for other children about pet keeping at the Pet Expo in Cork Emma has been “pet mad” for as long as she can remember. There have always been animals in her home, and in the past year, the family interest in pets has stepped up a notch. Emma’s mother, Marie, is the organiser of Pet Expo, which was launched in Dublin last October. The first Munster Pet Expo happened on the weekend of 5th/6th July in Cork, and Emma offered to help by talking about her favourite subject: pets.
Many children like the idea of pets, but often they don’t know what’s really involved. Emma has a “child’s eye” view of looking after her different pest, and she feels that she is in a good position to pass her knowledge on to other children.
“I have been looking after my rabbit, guinea pigs and hamster for the past five years” she says. “When parents tell children that it’s a lot of work, they don’t really believe them. When I talk about what I do, I think that they are more likely to listen to me”.
Emma’s favourite pet is her rabbit Thumper, who is now one year old. He is a male rabbit, and he is soon going to be neutered. Emma is quick to talk about the benefits of neutering for pets. “There are too many young pets around. I know people who have female rabbits who keep producing babies and they can’t find homes for them. Neutering stops female rabbits from having babies, like it does in dogs and cats. It will also make male rabbits like Thumper calm down a bit. He sometimes nips me, and he chases the guinea pigs if he gets a chance. The operation will make him into a much better pet.”
Thumper has a double-storey hutch with a big run, but he is not allowed out on his own in the garden, because he digs holes, and tries to escape. Emma has a lead and harness for him, and she takes him out for a walk every evening to the local green. She has Molly the dog on a lead in one hand, and Thumper the rabbit on his lead in the other, and she says that she does get some strange looks. She tells me that Thumper gets on well with Molly and with Yosha the cat too. Emma is very relaxed about his interaction with her bigger pets. “Rabbits are bigger and stronger than people think” Emma goes on. “Thumper is more likely to chase a dog or cat than to be chased by them”.
Emma is also a serious Guinea Pig enthusiast. “I love the way that they talk to me by making squeaky noises. They spend a lot of time talking to each other too.” Emma has two Guinea Pigs – Ben and Jerry – and they spend most of their time within squeaking range of each other. “They love each other’s company, and I would hate for one of them to be alone. If one does die eventually, I’ll need to get a younger friend for the one that is left”. Emma tells me that she has heard that Guinea Pigs and rabbits should not mix, and she wanted to know “Why not?” I explained that there are two reasons: firstly, Guinea Pigs can carry a bug that in theory can be passed on the rabbits, although there may not be as big a risk of this as people used to think. Secondly, some rabbits can be aggressive to smaller animals like Guinea Pigs, and they can hurt them. Many people do keep rabbits and Guinea Pigs together without any problem, and this can be fine as long as they are monitored closely to make sure that they are healthy and that no fighting is going on. Rabbits are social creatures too, and it may be better for their mental health to live amongst Guinea Pigs than to live alone.
Emma also has two hamsters, and these do like to live on their own. Hamsters are the exception to the rule: they are solitary creatures in the wild, and they tend to fight if forced to share a cage. Emma had a third hamster, but he died recently, and she had her first experience of losing an animal. She found it difficult, but she realises that when you have small pets that only live for a few years, you need to learn to get used to the fact that they die. She buried the hamster in the back garden, after a short funeral.
Emma was based in the Pets Corner at the Pet Expo in Cork, helping the show Animal Welfare Officer look after the small pets, as well as giving talks to small groups of children. She has done drama at school, so she was quite comfortable talking in public, especially to other children. And she is always happy when she is talking about her favourite subject of pets. See her again at the Pet Expo in Dublin in October.


+ Many children have a natural affinity with animals
+ Pets are good for children’s self confidence and social skills
+ Children of all ages can be taught about looking after pets

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