"The strongest bonding between pets and people occurs in the young and the elderly," says Dr. Gordon. "It's absolutely wonderful to watch the relationship between a child and a pet."
Children tend to bond more easily with a pet with which they can frequently interact. The most popular choices for family pets are dogs and cats; however, so-called pocket pets which include hamsters, guinea pigs, and gerbils are also favored.
"Hamsters are a very popular choice for families," says Snyder. "We show the children how to care for them and if properly supervised, children can carry and hold hamsters easily."
All families members should be included in the selection process. While parents should determine which species of animal the family should get, children enjoy making the final choice.
Dr. Gordon counsels, "As much as we all like surprises, it is not the best idea to surprise someone with a pet. Everyone in the family should buy into the responsibility and commitment of buying a pet."
Timing Is Important
Although many pets are purchased to celebrate such holidays as Christmas and Easter, these are not recommended times to add an animal to the family. Pet care providers see a rush of pet acquisitions at the end of the school year because more family members are home during the summer months.
"The worse thing you can do is buy a pet on impulse," says Austenberg. "If a family is not happy with a pet we will take it back, but it's not really good for the pet or the child," adds Snyder.
"The more prepared you are to receive the pet, the better," stresses Dr. Gordon. "Take the time to look at all aspects of this decision first."
Getting a pet should be a commitment for the animal's life. In return, your newest family member will make a loyal commitment to you.