When 6-year-old Jackie Saunders begged for a dog in 1992, her mother cringed. "Kids inevitably ask for one," says Lisa Saunders, 48, of Suffern, N.Y. (pop. 11,006).
She appeased Jackie with a hamster as a "starter pet," but the hamster turned out to be a biternot a very good starter pet after all. Then Jackie's wish came true. "Riley was the perfect match," Saunders says of the dog that showed up on their doorstep.
Whether it's a hamster, a goldfish or a golden retriever, bringing a pet into your home is a big decision. But don't count on the ideal pet showing up at your door. Instead, research your choices and take steps to ensure that a pet will be a good fit for your family.
"Choose an animal based on personality, not breed," advises Emily Weiss, an animal behaviorist in Benton, Kan. (pop. 827). "The animal's personality should match your child's temperament and your family's lifestyle. Animalsfrom cats to dogs to hamsterscan be couch potatoes, middle of the road or what we like to call the Donald Trumps of the world: industrious and busy."
The right pet is a valuable addition to a family, and can help children learn social and communication skills, as well as responsibility. "But children under age 10 are unable to care for a pet," cautions Michele Borba, a parenting expert in Palm Springs, Calif. (pop. 47,906). "Parents should know that a pet is their responsibility and their child's friend."