Pet Lady

Selecting an Appropriate Pet

October 18, 2005


Q:  My kids have been bugging me for a pet, but I’m just not sure what is appropriate for our family.  They really want a dog, but dogs seem like so much work, and we are a very busy family.  What should I be considering in making this decision? 


A:  Wow!  First of all let me congratulate you on asking this question.  So many people go out and get an animal without really thinking about their choices.  I commend you for putting some thought into what is right for your family as well as the animal involved.  Today so many families are busy with work, school, sports practices, and other activities that they are rarely home.  If this is the case for your family, you really need to look at your schedule and see how much time you have to devote to an animal.  A dog requires a lot of interaction, training, and companionship in order to become a good dog citizen in the house and community.  A bored and lonely dog is one that will get in trouble.  If your family is on the go all the time, this is definitely something to think about.  If you are set on getting a dog and no other type of animal, you may want to consider an older dog who is much happier being a couch potato than a young puppy who will need your constant attention.  That’s not to say that an older dog doesn’t need training, love, and attention too, but they are often more content to spend a little more time at home alone.  A cat may be a better option for a busy family.  Unlike dogs who are pack animals and need to have others around, cats are a little more independent.  They sleep more hours a day than dogs and are usually happy to have a quiet house during the day.  Cats are nocturnal animals, though, so when the family is settling down in the evening, cats are just getting revved up!  You may find a cat who has been left alone all day is energized and raring to go, just when you are ready to collapse. Many people consider a caged animal when they don't have a lot of time. However, these animals take a lot of time and devotion as well. Rabbits and guinea pigs need one-on-one attention too and require a healthy diet beyond the pellets sold in stores. Also cages sold for these animals are often way too small and need daily cleaning.   A lot of people get hamsters for their children as a first pet.  I usually don’t recommend this as hamsters are nocturnal and somewhat anti-social.  They like to live alone—putting two hamsters together in a cage usually means certain doom.  They are also smaller and harder to handle for younger children.  


The bottom-line is any animal is a big responsibility. It's important to remember that whatever animal you choose, the parents will ultimately be responsible for the animal’s care.  No matter how much your children promise, they are just children and will not be responsible enough to shoulder complete care of any animal. Taking time to look at your family’s needs and desires will help you choose the appropriate pet for your family.  Be sure to consider the needs of the animal as well. They are dependent on you to take the time to learn all about the kind of care they need to live a long and happy life.


  Center Hill School offers a free workshop the first Monday of every month at 7 p.m. entitled “Successful Animal Adoptions.”  This workshop helps people to make the right decision in choosing an animal and informs them on what to expect after adopting or purchasing a pet.  To sign up for the class contact Center Hill School at 434-591-6113 or send an e-mail to  Hope to see you in one of the workshops!