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How to get your whole family involved in raising a new pet

I work as a journalist specializing in pets and wildlife. I cover pet care, pet lifestyle, wildlife, wildlife travel, and the people who work with and on behalf of animals.

Want to raise responsible kids? Get them a pet. Sounds simple? In all honesty, it's not. Raising well mannered pets... you know, the kind you love being around... takes work from you and from your kids.

This is one of our cats, Chai, bonding with a friend's baby.

Before you get a family pet, everyone in your home must discuss how much work is involved, and what tasks they will take on.

In our house, my son petitioned us for kittens. He grew up in a house with an adult cat who passed away when he was 11. Our cat lived to age 21. My child's reasoning was that if we got another adult cat, he wouldn't live as long as a kitten.

Kittens are adorable and incredibly playful. Just like puppies, they are a lot of work. With a busy schedule, I wanted to adopt an adult cat. Still, my kid presented my husband and me with a good argument for adopting kittens.

I still change the litter, and play with them. I was always going to play with them. My son brushes them, and feeds them twice a day. He also spends time playing with them.

Having Chai and Karma in our lives has made him more responsible and caring. Children learn so much from pets, and they learn by watching us interact with them. Following are a few tips on how to get your entire family involved in raising a pet.

1. Do your homework

Purchase a dog or cat care book that you can read with your child, watch online cat or dog videos, visit friends with cats or dogs or volunteer with your child at your local animal shelter or rescue. Talk to your children about expectations and responsibilities. Never leave children alone with pets, for their own safety and for the safety of the pets.

2. Narrow your search

Most animal shelters and rescue groups have online photos and information about the pets in their care. Narrow your search by entering the type of pet and age range you are considering. Ask yourself and your family if you want a dog or a cat. Many people think that cats need less care; that isn't true. You should also know that puppies require the most work.

3. Make an appointment

After narrowing your selection down to a few cats or dogs online, call the shelter and make an appointment. At the shelter, visit their meet-and-greet room. If the shelter doesn't have one, look for a quiet area. You can walk dogs and watch them outside the shelter setting. For cats, try to find a quiet place at the shelter to interact with them.

If the shelter isn't equipped to answer your questions about the pets in their care, or if they don't have a place for you to interact with the dog or cat, ask them which fosters/rescue groups pull animals from them. Often rescue groups will get their dogs and cats from high-kill shelters. The people who volunteer at most foster/rescue groups know something about the cats and dogs they are watching.

4. Consider fostering

Often dogs and cats in shelters are under a lot of stress. Their true personalities may not shine in a shelter. Fostering gives you a good glimpse into the pet's personality. It also gives your children a look at how life will change with a pet in the house.

5. Take time to decide

You can visit the shelter a few times to see how well everyone in your household bonds with the potential pet. You also don't have to decide right away, and ultimately, you should be the ones choosing. Know that you and your children will have pet chores; you can make a list of what everyone involved has to do.

Start with easy tasks for your child, and each task should depend on your child's age and maturity level.

Consider adoption. Adoption fees often include spay/neuter and vaccines. Some shelters offer low cost spay/neuter certificates. It's important to remember that even if your pet was free, he won't stay free. There are annual veterinary visits, food and an occasional toy. You also might want to hire a dog trainer. All of that said, adoption fees are considerably lower than purchasing from a breeder or puppy mill/pet store. By adopting, you are not only enriching the life of your new pet, you are also enriching the lives of yourself and your children.

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