The image of a child with a pet is one of the most enduring pictures of childhood. But matching a boy or girl with the most appropriate creature can be a challenge for any family. Before adding an animal to the household, parents should carefully consider all aspects of pet care.
"I recommend a pre-acquisition consultation," advises Dr. Robert Gordon, Director of the Oakland Animal Hospital in Oakland, New Jersey. "There are some very relevant points families should think over before acquiring a pet."
A child's age is not necessarily the first consideration when deciding what pet to buy. The family's lifestyle is more significant. "We want to avoid the concept of a 'throw-away' pet, which may become homeless because it does not fit into the family's lifestyle," Dr. Gordon says.
How much time a family has to devote to an animal, the parents' work schedules and the children's out-of-home activities are as important to good pet matching as the environment where the pet will live. If a family takes frequent vacations, is adequate substitute pet care available? Are there sufficient finances to assure the animal's proper nutrition and nurturing? Are parents willing to take on the bulk of responsibility for the animal's well-being? "Even though a pet may be bought for a child, the parents are the ones who must make the lifelong commitment," says Nina Austenberg, Director of the Flanders-based Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of the Humane Society of the United States. "Children may be grown and out of the house before an animal has lived out its life."
A Good Match
Pet owners should strive for a good match between the family's and the animal's personalities. Some research into various species of domestic is valuable in revealing a prospective pet's character and disposition. Browsing through a pet store such as Petland Discounts or Petco is also a good idea. Donald Snyder, Manager of Petland Discounts on Route 440 in Jersey City welcomes inquiries from parents. "It's probably wise to come look around the store first before making a purchase," says Snyder.
"One thing I noticed while visiting our stores, is how much help parents need in making an appropriate pet choice, especially when there are young children in the household," says Brian Divine, President of Petco.
Both Petland Discounts and Petco sell small animals including hamsters, birds, reptiles and fish in 12 locations each throughout the state. In an effort to help their customers, Petco provides over forty pamphlets with specific information on each of the animals they sell.
"It's important to know what's involved in caring for a pet before making a purchase," explains Divine. "The pamphlets detail all the responsibilities of pet ownership."
"Different pets have different personalities," says Austenberg. "Some are more aggressive and some are playful." Families with very young children should be especially mindful of an animal's temperament before allowing interaction between child and beast.
"There are times when I will steer people away from one type of pet to another," recalls Snyder. "I don't recommend reptiles like snakes or high maintenance birds like parakeets to families with small children."
"Most shelters like to know that there is good parental supervision in the household before releasing a pet to a family," stresses Austenberg. "It would be tragic if an animal bit a child and then had to be returned to the shelter."