EMMA HOLLINGWORTH: Virtual pets bring out caring side

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OUR house seems to be overrun with small, furry animals at the moment. Well virtual ones anyway.

A couple of months ago our eldest got a portable games console which came complete with a game all about cats and dogs.

She started with a couple of hundred quid (virtual cash!) which she used to choose her first puppy from the kennels.

Every day she has had to feed, groom and walk him – just like a real pet. If she doesn’t she gets warnings from her machine that her dog is “parched” and only once she has given him some water will it say he is “quenched”. She has learned two new words as a result of this.

After carefully looking after him for a couple of weeks and successfully teaching him to sit, give her his paw and lie down, she was able to progress to the next stage – competitions.

Now if there is one thing which drives all children on it is their competitive nature. No matter what it is they always want to be first. In our household this ranges from getting into the car first, having the first biscuit or even getting read to first.

Naturally we have exploited this mercilessly and used it to make them compete against each other to get dressed quickest, get in the bath first and even finish their food first. None of our three seemed to have wised up to us yet, but I am sure it won’t be long before the revolt begins…

So the idea of being able to use her virtual puppy to compete in amateur and professional virtual cups really appealed to my daughter. Within days she had him coming first in “lure” contests and winning every Frisbee catching contest she entered him for. Each time he wins she gets more virtual money.

Being only eight she was delighted by this and managed to squander a fair amount to buy totally unnecessary dog clothes and leads and even some doggy sunglasses for her new pet.

However, being more of a cat lover than a dog lover (she is still scared of the real thing) she knew she would have to start saving her pennies to get her much wanted furry friend.

For some reason the price of a cat seemed ludicrously high, but all credit to the game-makers as she toiled away every spare minute she had to win cup after cup to get enough cash to buy her first kitten.

That was a few weeks ago and now she seems overrun with dog after dog and cat after cat which she has managed to buy. She has even sold a dog or two which she said failed to win any competitions. I may have to watch this ruthless streak in her in years to come…

So now we have Lucky (or Luky as she spelt his name), Furry (Fury), Precious (Preshus) and Smokey living with us, to name but a few.

I always thought she was quite a self-centred child – only interested in what she could get from life rather than give to it. But I have been deeply impressed with how she has taken to looking after her new “pets”. It makes me think she may even manage to be there for a real one, one day.

Of course her new enthusiasm does not extend to sharing her caring side with her siblings – unless it suits her, of course. There is obviously quite a distance she still needs to travel emotionally before she herself becomes a parent. But thankfully that is some years off.

I remember when I first had her I couldn’t imagine having another child as I feared I would never be able to love them as much as I loved her. But as soon as number two came along it jut happened naturally, and same again with number three.

I always wondered how people who are foster carers manage to juggle all their love, when they have child after child coming through their doors.

But as my experience has shown, and as my daughter has proved with all her “pets”, real or not, you can have enough love to go round. Numbers are irrelevant.

However, I still have a huge admiration for people who foster. This week is Foster Care Fortnight and Sheffield City Council is once again appealing for anyone who wants to do this rewarding work to come forward.

For further information visit: https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/caresupport/childfam/fostering.html or contact the fostering team on 273 5075.