The time seemed right to add a new member to the family. But before Lynn Green and her husband, Francesco Penati, jumped into getting a pet, they gave serious thought to the kind of pet they wanted and what would be right for them and their daughter, 3-year-old Francesca.
Sure, everyone (especially kids) swoons when they see a puppy or kitten, but not everyone considers some of the realities of bringing that cute fur ball home—messes to clean up, walks in inclement weather, chewed up shoes and ripped up furniture and expenses for food, medical care and supplies. Every year, people abandon animals because they aren’t a good fit for the home, misbehave or don’t get along with their children, animal welfare experts say.
"I think people put more research and homework into buying a computer," says Karen Okura, who has worked 23 years at the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago and manages the Animal Behavior and Training Department.
Chief among the issues to consider: Is my family ready for a pet and if so, what are we ready for?
The rewards of having a pet are huge, Okura says. Children with pets learn empathy, responsibility and other important life lessons, she says.
"That animal loves them no matter what," she says. "A child sees that the animal understands them. There’s some kind of bond ... When they select an animal, (families) should think of it as a member of their family."
As it turns out, the best pet for Green and Penati, who live in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, was different than the pets Green had growing up. A cat fit their family best. They found Inge, a 10-month-old black-and-white female cat at the Anti-Cruelty Society.
Baby makes four (or more)
Jamie Damato, who owns AnimalSense Canine Training and Behavior, helps couples who already have a pet and are about to add a baby to their family. Her quarterly "Baby and Bowser" seminar was a big hit with Tristen and Dave Rhodes of Oak Park, whose daughter, Taren, was born in January 2006.
They have two dogs. When they adopted the second, Tunza, a yellow Labrador retriever, in 2003, they already were thinking about starting a family.
With Tunza, they were looking for a companion for Ally, their older dog, a black Labrador. Ally "has a dominant personality. She runs the house. We wanted a laid-back male she could push around," Tristen Rhodes says with a laugh.
They also knew that laid-back personality would adapt well to a child in the home.
"We definitely want to teach Taren to be responsible and to care for other living things," she says. "We had all sorts of pets growing up, and I think it really added to our character."
Similarly, Green and Penati like what they see between their daughter and their cat. "It’s been a great experience."
• Animal Sense (www.animalsense.com or (773) 275-3647) offers canine training and behavior classes. "Baby and Bowser" is a quarterly two-hour seminar at Northwestern Memorial Hospital for expectant parents to prepare their dogs for the baby. "Ready, Set ... Dog?" on the first Wednesday of each month is for people thinking about getting a dog.
• The Anti-Cruelty Society, 157 W. Grand Ave. (www.anticruelty.org or (312) 644-8338), Chicago, has an online picture gallery of animals available for adoption. The $55 adoption fee includes mandatory spaying or neutering.
• The Animal Welfare League (www.animalwelfareleague.com or (708) 636-8586) has two locations. All adoptions are handled at 10305 Southwest Highway in Chicago Ridge. Fees are $90 for dogs; $39 for cats, or two for $55.
Best pets by age
Ages 4 and up: Guinea pigs are large enough for little hands to hold, they enjoy being cuddled and they rarely bite.
Ages 6-10: Ferrets and smaller rodents and fresh water fish. Children in this age group are able to clean cages with an adult’s help and can play with dogs and cats, as long as an adult is supervising.
Ages 10-13: Children have the skills to care more independently for dogs, cats and rabbits.
SOURCE: ASPCA, with permission
John O’Neill is a writer and dad living in Oak Park.