Caring for pets should be a joy and a privilege for children, not a punishment. If your kids come to see their pets as nothing but chore-inducing nuisances, then you may be reinforcing negative attitudes towards animals and a lack of empathy for them, the exact opposite of your original intent. If your children aren’t ready to make good on their promises, you must be prepared to do everything yourself, at least for a time.

Get the kids involved at the outset. Encourage them to compile lists of the pros and cons of each type of pet in relation to your family’s home situation and lifestyle. Make charts comparing different types of companion animals. If you are contemplating adding more than one type of pet to the family, be sure that each one’s safety can be assured. How will you mix cats and rabbits, or fish ?

You might also consider acquiring two new pets of the same species. Each animal deserves to have the companionship of a fellow member of its own species. Two cats, for example, could keep each other company when the rest of the household is out during the day. My own two cats, who are sisters, don’t exactly interact with each other a lot, but they do take comfort in each others presence, particularly when something such as a thunderstorm makes them feel insecure. If you like mice, housing several mice together in a large airy home will give them more opportunities for play and provide you with an entertaining daily circus of activity.

Once your whole family has settled on the right species, you can start to think about your new pet in more detail. If it will be a dog, do you prefer a mongrel or a purebreed ? What size, color and features would best suit everyone’s taste ? Do you need a dog who can be trusted around a baby and who is tolerant of the behavior of very young children ? If you have lots of flower beds that you would hate to see dug up by a dog avoid terriers, as they have a propensity for digging. What color cat would you like. If your kids go in for small rodents, would they prefer rats or mice, gerbils or hamsters ? If they want variety, then a little group of mice might be just the thing, as they can be found in all sorts of colors and patterns making it easy to tell each individual apart from the others.

Please don’t ever consider trying to turn wild animals, such as raccoons or squirrels, into pets. It’s cruel to deprive wild animals of their natural lives in their natural habitats. Those adorable little baby animals are likely to grow up to be destructive when kept in a human house, or quick to bite, as they mature and their instincts fully develop. They’ll become impossible to keep, and yet unafraid of humans and poorly equipped to survive the rigors of life in the wild. Making a wild animal into a pet is a recipe for disaster and its the animal who inevitably suffers the consequences. Please think twice, too, before caging a wild bird, as birds are born to fly and to cover large distances.

When you’ve finally settled on the species decide which sex you want. Male cats may spray the furniture when indoors, if not neutered. Two male mice, when kept together, may fight, while a colony of female mice can live together harmoniously. If you’re adding small caged pets like rodents to your family, be sure that you don’t inadvertently bring home a male and a female, or you’ll soon find that you have more little critters than you can manage.

If you welcome female cats or dogs into your home, do not let them have babies so that your children can witness “the miracle of birth.” It’s a far better lesson for your kids to see you take on the responsibility of spaying and neutering cats and dogs so that you do not contribute to the problem of pet overpopulation. There are already far too many unwanted pets who end their short lives in shelters. Spaying and neutering bring health benefits to animals, as well. For example, neutered male cats will not spray in the house or roam far afield getting into fights, and spayed female cats will be less subject to certain medical conditions as they age.

Once you’ve decided on the perfect family pet you’ll need to gather information to better prepare you for life with your new friend or friends. Involve your kids in the research and reading as much as you can. Don’t confine your research to aspects of pet care, important as that is, because it’s also a good idea to have a information on hand that can help you out if your pets ever show symptoms of illness. Information on signs and symptoms and their possible causes can help you determine when it’s safe to “watch and wait” and when immediate veterinary treatment is vital.

Take your kids with you when you are ready to start shopping around for that perfect pet. Be sure to stick to reputable sources (ie. no puppy mills) that provide hygienic conditions for the animals in their care. If the caregivers also display gentleness and spend time playing with their animals, the animals will be more likely to develop into affectionate and sociable pets.
Consider adopting a cat or dog from a reputable animal shelter. Here you’ll find animals who have already suffered at human hands and been abandoned or mistreated. You’ll be rescuing them and offering them a second chance for a happy life. Although they may require some extra patience on your part and lots of TLC to get them over their past traumas, you’ll be rewarded by knowing that you’ve given a good home to an animal in need, one who may otherwise have faced euthanasia.

When you’re out pet hunting, be sure that your kids know how to move slowly and quietly, so as not to frighten the animals they’re looking at. During your search of shelters, pet shops or private homes that have placed classified ads, at some point you and your children will find yourselves looking into that face, the sweetest face on earth, the face of the little creature whom you absolutely must have. It will be love at first sight, your hearts will melt, and you’ll all be sure that this is the one, even if he or she does not meet all of the criteria that you had so painstakingly defined beforehand!