Colin, avobe, and Brendan Neary , below, were enthusiastic pet owners—at first. Photo by Kathleen Seiler Neary

On day 3 of my family’s experiment in owning—renting, actually—two chicks, I could tell where things were headed. My sons, Colin, 10, and Brendan, 6, had pretty much forgotten that we had a pair of fuzzy pets to keep alive, and my husband and I were the ones trudging to the box in the basement to fill the food and water dishes and occasionally sprinkle in some fresh bedding. The chicks were getting bigger, a little less adorable and a lot smellier. My kids had basically abandoned their responsibilities.

To be fair, my 10-year-old really wants a dog, not farm fowl. He reminds us of this almost daily, but my husband and I aren’t ready to take that leap. There’s so much to consider: Who’s going to walk him? How much will vet visits cost? What if the dog chews up our shoes and damages our furniture? I have neighbors who fostered a cat when they were thinking about adopting one, just to see what it would be like, and then sent him back to the rescue group when they realized he wasn’t a good fit. I thought a trial run would give us a glimpse of what we might be committing to.

When I saw that Rocklands Farm in Poolesville offers a chick rental program in the spring ($30 for two chicks and their supplies), it seemed like a good opportunity to show the boys what it’s like to have a pet without really owning one. We’d return the chicks after a week, and they eventually would be sold as chicken to eat. I don’t think we’ll ever own chickens—we have a few friends who do—but we could handle one week.

As far as pets go, the chicks were fairly low maintenance, yet their care became one more thing on the adult to-do list—whether it was reminding (veering into nagging) the kids to feed the chicks in the morning or simply doing it ourselves. At first, the boys wanted to hold the chicks (Brendan a little too tightly), fill up their bowls, get the lamp over their box just right and show them off to their friends. But as the days passed, so did their interest in going to the laundry room to see what the chicks needed. “Can you please do it?” Colin would ask. Brendan treated them more like one of his toys—played with when they’re right in front of him, forgotten when they’re not. The onus was mostly on me, which meant more work and worry at a time when I’m looking to simplify life, not complicate it. 

When we drove the chicks back to Rocklands Farm, the boys were sad to see them go, but there were no tears. “Now can we get a dog?” Colin asked as we pulled away from the farm. I keep telling myself that the chicks were tucked away in the basement—out of sight, out of mind—and that a dog’s needs would be much harder for the boys to ignore. I’ve realized that what we really need to do is rent a dog. So next up is a weekend stay at our house for my aunt and uncle’s Portuguese water dog, Harper. We’ll see how Brendan and Colin do with feeding the dog, holding the leash tightly and—the part I know they are least looking forward to—picking up after Harper on walks.

Associate Editor Kathleen Seiler Neary can be reached at