How to pick the perfect pet
"For kids, you're talking about an unconditional bond," said Cate Drost, DVM, Gahanna Animal Hospital. "It's a playmate and they don't make you work for it."
Pet options are far more varied than the cat, dog and fish varieties of years past. Now children like Terry Wilkins' 13-year-old daughter enjoy alligators and pythons while others cuddle up to everything from sugar gliders and chinchillas to ferrets, rabbits and exotic birds.
Not only do children learn the joys of real puppy love, they learn about responsibility and care when it comes to keeping a pet. "[Pets] can teach children to be kind and gentle and they can teach them unconditional love and patience and joy," Drost said.
For children with emotional or physical limitations, the simple act of sitting quietly with a rabbit or brushing a dog's coat can offer them a sense of accomplishment, said Lynn Grinstead, DVM, Winchester Veterinary Clinic.
Birds make "extremely good pets" for children with autism, said Ram Mohan, DVM, Avian Health Clinic. Children can learn how birds express themselves without language. Likewise, birds can learn a variety of tricks from children, such as flying on command and "potty" training.
Every few months Jill Lee, executive director of Cat Welfare, welcomes groups of special-needs children to the shelter. While the children have a chance to pet and interact with the felines waiting for adoption, the cats learn to socialize. "I really think that the human-cat bond is there."
But the child-pet bond doesn't always come in a fluffy package. As owner of Captive Born Reptiles, Wilkins often sees children who want to take home a snake or lizard. Some-times, though, their parents aren't so sure. "Constantly we hear, 'You can have one when you move out'."
Regardless of the type of pet your child wants, the experts recommend researching the animal choice thoroughly beforehand. Your child's first love won't live forever, but with careful selection it should be a member of the family for a very long time.
Pet options including types of pets and experts opinions on each type (.pdf)
Amber Stephens is a Columbus-area freelance writer and editor. Author of the book, Kissing in Columbus, she is also the mother of two young children.