Pagan Parenting: Familiars, Other Animals and Kids

By K. Peak


The Wiccan Rede (Short version)

Bide ye the Wiccan Laws ye must,

In perfect love and perfect trust,

Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:

An ye harm none, do as ye will.

And ever mind the Rule of Three:

What ye send out, comes back to thee.

Follow this with mind and heart,

And merry ye meet and merry ye part.


Here is it, June 17, 2001. Last night I had the pleasure of holding a Guinea Pig that belonged to my neighbor's 11-year-old child. The critter died in my hands.  I checked for pain reflex while my husband pulled out a stethoscope and could hear nothing.  The poor thing was only a few months old and acted as if it were choking on something. Her tongue was swollen and after multiple checks, and attempting the Heimlich as you would do on a dog or cat (just smaller), nothing could be done.  But she was also acting as if she were in anaphylactic shock. Rescue breathing failed as well.   Doug and I wrapped her in a towel, placed her in a box. I took the girl home so I could talk with her parents and try to reassure the child. Do we know what did it?  Not without an expensive necropsy.  However, the child had switched from plain pine bedding to one that is often treated with scented oils (against my recommendations from weeks earlier). She made the switch that day.  I think there may be a coincidence as some animals react adversely to them.


Originally, the girl's mother did not want the animals in the house, but father and neighbor's child overrode Mom's authority and a guinea pig was bought and a second one given to her a week later.  (This was all done shortly after the neighbor's child gave the youngest daughter some dwarf hamsters that mom said "no" to and dad said "OK.").


The law of the critters was laid down strictly by Mom "You got them after I said no so you are completely responsible. They need food, you come shopping with me. I will not clean them and when you decide to go away with the scouts, you find someone to care for them." Mom also knew that should the children stop caring for them, as many children cats. I spent years in both rabbit and cavy 4-H, a large rabbit and cavy club in New England, worked closely with my vets over the years. I have over two decade experience working with dogs, I run my own dog training program part time.  It also helps to have a sister who is a vet and parents who have years in the dog breeding, training and showing genres. I also had years of involvement with animal rescue work.  Most recently, I became a volunteer raiser and soon to be assistant area coordinator with Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I grew up with animals as my life.


Now, this purpose of this article is not to rehash events over the past weeks and the ultimate death of the young critter for unknown reasons. The purpose is to make us as parents think before we give into our child's wails of: "We are witches and I have to get a familiar." "Can we get a dog, PLEEEEEASE!?" "But my friend is giving it to me…" All the begging and promising to care for them, etc., can really get to parents.  Kids can be very persistent and wear us down in time.  But we cannot allow ourselves to become worn down if we truly know better and know what would ultimately be best for the animal – even if it means hurting the feelings of our kids.  Hey, parenting is not a popularity contest.  We are our child's mentors and guides until they are out on their own (and hopefully after to some extent). We are not to be their best friends. We need to say "no" at times and set rules.


Having been a child myself and going through the begging for a pet.  I can honestly say the AVERAGE child is not responsible enough to care solely for an animal – even if that animal is a familiar. Yes, the child may care for it for a few weeks or even months, but go to any shelter or rescue group and ask how many animals per year are given up or neglected when the kids stop caring for them and the parents do not want to.  I remember my parents getting on my case because I forgot to poop scoop the back yard or clean a cage.  I spent five years at a shelter and then several more involved with rabbit rescue.  I hated June, July and August (post Easter when the baby bunnies were now hitting sexually maturity and no longer cute babies).  I hated these months because Christmas puppies and kittens were now adolescent brats and the owners could not or would not deal with them.  I hated seeing the lines of animals coming in and the reason for giving up was often "The kid lost interest."  I hated the fall, as all the pets bought over the summer would be dumped because the kids were in school and the parents unwilling to care for the animal.  Had these parents had the guts to stand up and use some brainpower, these animals would never have been gotten.


Now what when your child says, "I need a familiar" and plays the religion card?  Well, same thing. A familiar has a deeper bond with us than the average pet, but still that animal needs care.  If you cannot provide it, it is not fair to the familiar to be called to you at that time. Remember the Wiccan Rede (in case you do not, a short version opens this piece).   "Harm none," that nice little line in it? No matter how badly a familiar is wanted at that time, if the time it not right for it, the familiar will not truly come.  No matter how many calls your child puts out. And if one does touch your child, you as the parent or guardian are responsible.  It is ultimately you as parent who calls the shots in the house.


What do you need to think about before bringing and animal – familiar or pet – into the life of your child and family? Well, in over 20 years of various animal work, I have developed a series of things to ponder.  These are adapted from an article on readiness for a dog, authored by me, that has been published by several on-line pet related websites (Dog Breed Info and Central Pets to name two).  I also have the original on my website,


  • Time Commitment: How much time each day do you have to devote to the animal? Are you willing to commit to the pet for its life? (This can be anywhere from three to 70 years depending on if you getting a mouse or a parrot). What if you have to move? 
  • Human Medical Issues: Are there any allergies or medical conditions in your family that could cause issues resulting in having to get rid of the animal?  If there are suspected health concerns, consult a doctor before considering a pet.
  • Cost: Can you afford an animal?  Getting the kitten or puppy or rabbit or guinea pig is not the big expense. It is possible to spend far more in the first year alone in supplies, food, vet care, etc., than you did on the animal. Also, I often hear "I cannot afford a good breeder." If you cannot afford a good breeder, than you may not be able to afford the animal in the long run. I encourage people to go to rescues and reputable breeders for pets. But in the long run, regardless of where you go, the animal is the cheap part! Can you afford medical emergencies?


  • Housing: Can you properly house the pet? Being left in the back yard with a hut and water is not proper housing. Also, these pets are more prone to become nuisances (dogs barking out of boredom) and victims of "pranks" or theft. In order to be truly socialized, an animal must be part of the family.


  • Lifestyle: What is your lifestyle like?  Do you travel a lot?  Is there a lot of mayhem and commotion at your house?  


  • Grooming: What about grooming? Most pets need grooming. Even short-coated ones benefit from a going over with a fine comb and brush. Should you get something like a longhaired guinea pig or Angora rabbit or heavily coated cat or dog, you may have to devote time daily to brushing.


  • Need: Why do you want to share your life with an animal? Companionship, participating in sports, protection, familiar, or because your kids are driving you crazy asking?


  • Experience: Are you an experienced pet owner with what you are considering?  Let's use at dogs for an example: There are many breeds that are not appropriate for a novice dog owner for one reason or another. Many people see Border Collies (Babe) and Jack Russell Terriers (Frasier, Wishbone) and must have one. What about those 101 Dalmatians?   Obviously these dogs must be great if they are in Hollywood!  WRONG!  What makes dogs excel in acting, Agility and other things often makes them more (sometimes FAR more) than the novice dog owner is prepared to handle. Thousands of Dalmatians, Border Collies and Jack Russells find themselves given up by owners who HAD to get on because of the image Hollywood gave them. Some breeds are self-willed and can be a challenge to work with.  Not that they are bad but the owner needs to understand the breed.  They often have very high energy levels.  No breed is untrainable – regardless of what some surveys would have you think. Knowing the breed (or breeds that went into a cross) is a big step to understanding the dog and working with it.


  •  Long Term: What will happen to the animal if you start a family?  Are you just going to dump the dog or do what it takes to ensure he is ready for the new arrival? What if you have to move?  Thousands of pets are given up because of a new child or move. Have you thought about the long-term needs of the animal?  Remember, some animals have very long life expectancies.


  • Golden Years:  What when the animal ages?  Are you prepared to cope with the onset of old age or when the pet is no longer "useful" will you get rid of it.  Can you handle the increased health issues that can go along with a senior animal? 


Now, you have weighed all the things mentioned above and decided to go ahead and share your home with an animal, who will be the primary caretaker? The average child will lose interest, sometimes within days or weeks – are you as the parent willing to continue proper care? If not, no matter how much your child pesters, whines and screams, stand your ground.  And do NOT let another family member or friend usurp your authority.  Live animals are NOT gifts to be given casually as one would a sweater.


Let's move briefly on to familiars.  Familiars have a very dark past based in lies.  When most people think of a Witch's familiar, they think of a black cat or raven or wolf that the witch uses for evil deeds. Well, we know that is far from true. And not just any pet can be a familiar; there is a different bond between a witch and a familiar that goes very deep into the metaphysical realm.  It can take a lot of searching and asking the Goddess and God to help guide the person to that animal that will be your or your child's working partner.


Is your child ready for a familiar?  That depends on the maturity of your child. Some children may see a familiar as a status symbol or something cool like a new jacket. This is the wrong reason to begin the search for a familiar with your child.  Instead, ask your familiar to help you guide your child and learn how to properly work with it. Then when the child has the maturity (remember, maturity is not based in age necessarily), you can help guide your child in the search for a familiar of his/her own,


But as with a pet, remember the list above to ask yourselves and ask if the familiar is appropriate for your community. If you are not zoned for livestock, a horse as a familiar may not be possible. However, do you have the capabilities to board the horse at a reputable facility? Being Wiccans in modern day times requires ingenuity.  But if the familiar will ultimately not be able to life a good and proper life, maybe it is truly not meant to be the child's familiar at that time and child's unconscious desires (how many little girls want a pony) are clouding and affecting the search.


Familiars also need not be physical beings in your home. You can link with a familiar on the astral level.  In Africa, it is felt the wild animals of the bush are familiars and when working, you create a link psychically to that animals. You join per se mentally.  This is another option for working with a familiar – especially if it is not morally right to have a living animal in your life at the moment.


Please, again I cannot stress the importance first and foremost of the Wiccan Rede.  Animals are living, thinking beings that need more than good intentions to live and bond. No matter how much your child torments you, if you as parents and guardian know that brining in an animal at that time is not a good idea, stand by it.  Do not give in. Each year, thousands of animals end up in rescue, dying, neglected or dumped in the "wilds" by families who gave into the pleas of their children.  Never bring in an animal if the adults in the house are not willing to be ultimately responsible for them.  Even if the animal is a familiar.




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