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Which Pet is right for my Child
An article by Frisky Pet Food Co.

whichpet.gif (6036 bytes)The wide variety of animals available as pets can accommodate children of all ages. Whether parents choose a pet for their child or wait until the child expresses interest in a particular species, there are many tangible benefits to sharing our lives with animals. Although many children are born or adopted into homes already populated by dogs, cats and birds, there is a different level of benefit in giving them the opportunity to select and take responsibility for new pets of their own. The following suggestions for pets appropriate to different ages comes with the caveat that children are individuals: while some may be natural, self-starting caregivers, others may prefer low maintenance pets for which they simply share the care and feeding.

1. Infants and toddlers
Even the youngest infant is drawn to the softness and warmth of a dog or cat. Infants and toddlers benefit from the concept of gentle touching (and experience its reciprocation). As they grow more aware of extended members of their "family", toddlers extend feelings of attachment to animals as well as to people. Nothing more than the quiet company of a pet is needed to fuel that relationship-and remove any dog from its house for a day to see how acutely it is missed.

2. Preschoolers
Young children who are establishing their sense of empathy and consideration for animals (with your help) can participate in the day-to-day care of dogs and cats. Although they do not usually intend to hurt animals, preschoolers may be more likely to injure pets (or get bitten or scratched) by exuberant handling. Depending, then, upon the self-control of the child, the best choice of pet may be one that is interesting but inaccessible (such as fish or birds), temperamentally reliable (such as a well-handled rat or guinea pig), or an even-tempered dog or cat for which parents take ultimate responsibility. Given those caveats, preschoolers are often very eager to help feed, groom and exercise the family pet.

3. School-age children
Once a child reaches school age and expresses interest, the time may be right for the purchase of a dog or cat for which a child will take responsibility (from his or her point of view). However, although children aged 6 to 10 may be enthusiastic about their "own pets", the ultimate responsibility and commitment should lie firmly in the hands of parents. As a general rule it is probably a poor idea to bring home any pet that parents would not wish to care for-permanently-should the vagaries of childhood drift away to other interests. With supervision, children can "try out" their promises of responsibility by volunteering time at a local humane society or veterinary clinic. If, after such an experience, a child persists in wanting to care for a pet, he or she has certainly earned the chance.