"Mom! I want a dog!"

Sooner or later, this is a plea that most parents will hear. Maybe you have already heard it or a variation thereof.

"Dad! Matthew's gerbils had gerbils. Can I have one? Please?"
"Hannah's got an iguana! It is soooooo cool! Can we get one?"
"Stevie's brother got a boa constrictor! Can I —?"

The refrain that accompanies these pleas in almost every case is the same: "I can take care of it myself. I promise!"

Although most children have a natural affinity for animals, it is in fact the rare child of any age who takes full responsibility for a pet. Teenagers leave home for college or a job, and guess who is in charge off the pet that
is left behind? Often, well-intentioned but uninformed parents find themselves

  • stuck with the care of a pet they don't like or don't have time for
  • nagging and fighting with their child about a pet's care or behavior
  • delivering an unwanted pet to the local animal shelter, leaving their child with a residue of guilt, anger, and the wrong lessons about responsibility
  • disposing, amidst a child's tears, of a pet that has met an untimely death due to lack of proper care

Of all the purchases that you make as parents, few have more impact on your child and family than a pet. A dog can live for ten to fifteen years; a cat, for fifteen to twenty; a bird, for thirty years or more. The cost of purchasing and maintaining a pet can easily run to thousands of dollars, and pets need daily care.

Should every child have a pet? Should your child have one? What kind? What do pets do for kids, anyway? How old should your child be before he or she has a companion animal? If pets and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly, why are millions of healthy pets dumped at animal shelters every year?

Because every child, every family, and every pet is unique, there are no one-size-fits-all answers to these questions. Instead, I suggest some criteria you can sue to evaluate your family's pet resources and provide basic information about pets to help you select the companion animal that fits your family.