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Is your family ready for a pet?

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Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 10:26 am, Thu Mar 31, 2011.

Whether your household is partial to dogs, cats, fish or reptiles, deciding if the family is ready to welcome a pet into the mix is a big undertaking and one that requires a lot of forethought.

Too often getting a family pet is more of an impulse decision than one carefully considered. A child sees the inquisitive eyes of a puppy staring back at him or her from inside a cage or pet store window and pleas go out to rescue the little bundle of fur. Other times pets come into the family by way of gifts. There have been many times well-meaning individuals gift a cat or bunny and think they've stumbled on the perfect present. But if the family isn't ready for the pet, the animal could end up being neglected or given away.

It is estimated that about 14 million dogs alone are euthanized in shelters across the United States. Pets who spend a long time in shelters can develop psychological problems, including anxiety, fear and people/other animal aggression. While many dogs and cats are adopted, a great number aren't. They're either forced to live their years out in cages or eventually be put to sleep. The way to prevent overpopulation in shelters is to carefully consider getting a pet and then being a responsible pet owner.

Here are some ways to tell if your family is ready to take on the added responsibility of a pet.

  • Are your children self-sufficient, meaning they can dress and feed themselves when necessary? Are they able to handle tasks, such as cleaning off the table or taking out the garbage?
  • Are your children amenable to things you ask from them, such as chores or going to bed promptly?
  • Have you ever "borrowed" a pet to see what the day-to-day interaction involves? If not, do so. Foster a pet similar to the one you're thinking of getting. Spend two weeks caring for the animal. If your children can handle this duration of time, they may be ready for more.
  • Do you have the room for a pet? Some animals require more living space than others (a Great Dane versus a gerbil). Consider if your home is adequate for the pet you're considering.
  • Are pets allowed where you live? If you rent or live in a community with homeowner regulations, find out if you are able to have a pet first. Sometimes pets are restricted based on breed or variety, such as cats being allowed, but no dogs.
  • Have you set the ground rules regarding who will be caring for the animal? If the children are expected to care for the pet and then you as parents are forced to take over, it could lead to animosity.
  • Have you considered the life span of animals you desire. Many dogs and cats can live anywhere from 10 to 20 years. Some birds live for 50+ years. Think about whether you're ready for that time commitment and who will care for the pet after the children have left the nest.
  • Let's face it, pets can be messy. Feathers, fur, food, poop — they're all part and parcel of owning a pet. Are you ready for the extra clean-up required?
  • Many people overlook financial obligations with pets. Is your family financially stable enough to handle another expense? Vet care and food for pets can total several hundred dollars each year.

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