Who doesn’t remember asking or being asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For kids who love animals, the answers might be veterinarian or veterinary nurse, horse or dog trainer, K-9 handler or pet groomer. Whatever their dreams, play is the first step toward making them reality.
Educational philosophers from Maria Montessori to Jean Piaget have said that the work of children is play. And toys offer every kind of opportunity for kids of all ages to practice future careers or discover careers they hadn’t known existed. Here are some to consider for your animal-obsessed child.
Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Barbie lets girls know they can rock any career, including veterinarian and farm veterinarian (and, not to leave anyone out, there’s wildlife veterinarian Ken). A 65th anniversary farm veterinarian Barbie comes with a stethoscope and other exam tools, overalls, boots and a lamb whose ears wiggle when fed from a bottle (tinyurl.com/f75j9uwc).
Wildlife vet Ken, wearing a light green shirt and khaki shorts, is a favorite of boys and girls. The play set includes a care station, baby cheetah and monkey, stethoscope, bottle and other accessories. One Mattel reviewer wrote: “My son really loves it. He has discovered that this is an option for a job when he is older” (tinyurl.com/ykctws2j).
Melissa & Doug toys are known for inspiring imaginative play. The plush Let’s Explore Ranger Dog with search-and-rescue gear is a favorite of preschoolers and search-and-rescue adults alike. Ranger wears a safety vest and protective boots and comes with a first-aid kit, pretend walkie-talkie, certification card and activity booklet. Two AA batteries are required for the walkie-talkie (tinyurl.com/2u9f6t3c).
The company’s 24-piece Pet Vet play set comes with a plush dog and cat, thermometer, syringe, ear scope, tweezers, bandages and other veterinary clinic “musts.” Toy experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute give it thumbs up for helping children develop empathy (tinyurl.com/52yt4j6y).
Everybody loves LEGO, and not surprisingly, there are animal career-themed LEGO. A LEGO animal ambulance (yes, pet ambulances exist) is equipped with a removable stretcher, two veterinary figures and dog and cat figures, as well as a feeding bottle, syringe, dog bowl and bone (tinyurl.com/4xzd8r3w). A larger kit is available for building a veterinary hospital (tinyurl.com/2rxrdacu).
Kids might not realize just how many different types of jobs veterinarians can hold. MuzeMerch has a 12-piece zoo vet kit that includes two lion cubs, plus information about lion families. Items in the kit allow kids to practice giving checkups and feeding cubs (muzemerch.com/zoo-veterinarian-doll-set).
It’s not all dogs and cats out there. Schleich has a mobile vet play set with a posable veterinarian figure, a Hanoverian foal and toy veterinary accessories. The horse club mobile vet play set won the PAL Award in 2018 and the Toy Insider top holiday toy in 2017 (tinyurl.com/rnk8hnnn).
If you were a horse-crazy kid like I was, you know about Breyer model horses. The company makes a number of horse vet toys and kits, including 8-inch veterinarian Laura, wearing a lab coat, shirt, pants and boots and six care and equipment accessories. She’s recognized by the American Association of Equine Practitioners and is ready to tend any size Breyer herd (tinyurl.com/29v7t5ue).
Breyer also makes a day at the vet kit with a 6-inch doll, foal, blanket, cat, dog, vet bag and more (tinyurl.com/4p9jd5fj); a deluxe animal hospital (tinyurl.com/ycxb7ryr); and a pet groomer set (tinyurl.com/2hj4xaym).
For preschoolers, Playmobil has a 39-piece vet visit carry case play set with figures that can bend, sit, stand and turn their heads, as well as an exam table with lamp, stethoscope and other equipment (tinyurl.com/55zfmhex).
Kids with an artistic bent will love Play-Doh’s care and carry vet set that allows them to groom, style and examine a dog, “grow” hair and nails, and remove fleas (tinyurl.com/2bwdaxwv).
Pet-friendly national parks?
Q: We’re planning our summer vacation — with our dog, of course. At which national parks will he be welcome?
A: I’ve visited a number of national parks with my dogs over the years. The main thing to remember is that while most parks allow dogs on paved trails, they’re barred in other areas. Dogs may also not be allowed at hotels and campsites inside parks unless you’re in an RV.
If you’re not a hiker or backpacker, though, then driving through and seeing the sights but staying outside the park can work well for you. We have enjoyed the beauties of Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, Zion and Bryce that way. At Yellowstone, during a very cold spring, we watched Old Faithful erupt in the middle of a snowstorm while our dog waited in the nice, warm car, and saw bears who were just coming out of hibernation.
At Yosemite we stayed at dog-friendly Tenaya Lodge just outside the park. Because it was Christmas, the park was practically empty, and we all enjoyed sightings of mule deer and — from the hotel — a hay ride.
Some of the most dog-friendly national parks are Acadia in Maine, Hot Springs in Arkansas, White Sands (where dogs and people can go sand sledding) in New Mexico and Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi.
The best thing you can do to ensure that you and your dog have a good experience is to sign up with the B.A.R.K. Ranger program, named for the principles pets and people should follow when visiting: bag pet waste, always leash pets, respect wildlife, know where you can go. (Leash-trained cats can be B.A.R.K. Rangers, too.) Each park has its own program and may offer a walk with a ranger or opportunities to earn B.A.R.K. Ranger tags. Find more information here: nps.gov/subjects/pets/be-a-bark-ranger.htm. — Kim Campbell Thornton
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
What dogs watch on TV
— Can videos help to assess a dog’s visual function? In a study published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Research, a survey of 1,246 dog owners from around the world found that age and vision were related to how much a dog interacted with a screen; sporting and herding dogs watched all content more than other breeds; and video content featuring animals was most popular, followed by content featuring other dogs. Cartoons engaged the interest of more than 10% of dogs, and movement on screens grabbed canine attention. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine hope the findings can help them develop video-based methods for assessing changes in visual attention as dogs age.
— Veterinarian Amir Khalil works with Four Paws (fourpawsusa.org/about-us/four-paws-about-us), an organization that rescues animals from war zones. He’s helping to get surviving animals out of zoos in Gaza, according to an NPR interview with him by A Martinez. They hope to remove animals — including lions, hyenas, baboons and crocodiles — from three zoos in Gaza, taking them first to Egypt and eventually to sanctuary in Jordan with the Princess Alia Foundation. Read the interview here: wkyufm.org/2024-01-17/veterinarians-and-others-plan-mission-to-rescue-animals-from-zoos-in-gaza.
— Lots of animals borrow their names from the characteristics of other species. An example is the smooth hound shark, small and slender with large oval eyes and a brownish-gray topside, fading to a light underbelly. If you’re a scuba diver, you might see them in shallow coastal waters schooling with leopard sharks (a species of hound shark named for the large spots on their back). Smooth hound sharks prey on crustaceans and occasionally cephalopods and bony fishes, which means divers usually spot them close to the seafloor. They can also be seen in aquariums. Why the name? They gather in large numbers, like a pack of hounds. — Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Bluesky at kimthornton.bsky.social. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.