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Pick Your Best Pet

Dog, cat, hamster, parrot? Find the perfect pet for your family's style.

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Does your 2017 master plan include the addition of a furry, finned or feathered friend? The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry acknowledges that pets can boost kids’ development of self-esteem, compassion and empathy. But unlike a sweater you can return consequence-free if it doesn’t fit quite right, a pet shouldn’t be an impulse buy. 

According to the ASPCA, the average local animal shelter sees about 10 percent of its adoptees — primarily puppies — returned (and, if not re-adopted within a set time frame, likely euthanized) due to behavioral and lifestyle issues that arise once the animal comes home. To reduce that likelihood and ensure the animal’s best chance at a “forever home,” consider the following before taking the pet plunge. 

Find time for Fido

First, take a look at your family’s typical day to determine if someone is home enough to provide the care and attention a pet deserves. “Kittens and puppies are like having an extra toddler in your house,” says animal rescue expert Dawn Morgan. “They require a lot of supervision because they will chew, climb on or get into things you don’t want them to.”
While older dogs and cats may adjust better to humans’ busy lifestyle, they still need playtime, training and grooming. Without enough exercise and social interaction, a bored, lonely dog may take out its frustrations by engaging in destructive behaviors like chewing and digging.

Less-demanding pets that you can feed and leave be for long stretches, like fish or hamsters, tend to work better for families with hectic schedules. Determine how much you want your child to help, whether it’s with feeding, cleaning or playing. Be prepared to enforce the rules and pick up any slack.

What’s in the kitty? 

How much can you afford to spend on a pet? Food, vaccinations, spaying or neutering, grooming, supplies . . . the scale slides wildly when considering the overall financial cost. 

The ASPCA estimates that annual pet ownership for a dog ranges from $1,314 for a small pup up to $1,843 for a large breed. Cats run an average of $1,035, while fish, birds and small mammals are a great deal less expensive, from $235 to $340. 

Adding to those figures? Pet life expectancies vary, and care for an animal that develops health problems will cost more over the long haul than care for an otherwise healthy friend. Also, if you choose a less common pet — think iguana or sugar glider — prepare to pay extra for a veterinarian who specializes in handling exotic animals.

Game, pet, match!

To ensure both the safety of your child and the welfare of the pet, understand the temperament of various types of animals. “Think about the qualities that are most important to you and find a breed that possesses those qualities,” says Laura Bergan of Brookline Labrador Retriever Rescue, an agency that finds homes for labradors throughout the area. While retrievers and labradors tend to be good family dogs, it’s easy to overlook how much exercise and attention these breeds require.

If you’re adopting from a shelter, talk to a volunteer who walks and feeds the animals. This person usually spends the most time with individual cats and dogs and can tell you whether their personalities would jibe well in a home with kids.  

With parental supervision, pocket pets — animals like rabbits, guinea pigs and other small mammals — make good first-time pets for children who are ready for the responsibility of caring for an animal. Purchase a young pocket pet, so it can grow accustomed to handling. While they don’t require much in the way of exercise, pocket pets do enjoy social interaction and clean, indoor enclosures.

Be careful when heading into bird, reptile and amphibian territory: They’re neither easy to care for nor to handle. Turtles, in particular, carry Salmonella bacteria on their shells, which can sicken a child still learning hand-washing hygiene.

When researching the right pet for you, talk to friends and family who own pets that you are interested in, a veterinarian or your local animal shelter.  

On the next page, a list of local animal shelters to find your new furry family member.

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