Owning and caring for a pet is rewarding for a child. Pets can provide hours of companionship and fun and countless opportunities to learn about responsibility.
Many parents automatically think of a cat or dog and may be hesitant to make the commitment that comes along with them. However, there are several options for pets outside of the canine and feline varieties.
Before considering adding any pet to a household, know that pets are living creatures that require proper care, attention and financial commitment. Children should not be expected to be the sole caregivers to any pet. Rather, pet ownership is a responsibility to be shared by all family members.
The following are some alternative pets to consider:
INSECTS AND ARTHROPODS: Think ant farm. These tiny critters can be both entertaining and educational, while not being too high-maintenance. There are several options for ant farms, and live ants can even be shipped through the mail. Check your local pet store or online to find the perfect set-up. Hermit crabs are another low-maintenance option.
FISH: A fish may be the perfect starter pet for a child; however, not just any fish will do, as some are more difficult to care for than others. Goldfish are popular choices, but they are hard to care for. For an easy first fish, try a betta: They do well without a companion, can live in small amounts of stagnant water and do not require fancy equipment such as filters, heaters or chemicals.
REPTILES: They may initially conjure up feelings of hesitation, but given the chance, reptiles can make interesting and educational pets. What’s more, they are nonallergenic. Look into turtles, tortoises, iguanas and snakes as options. Please note that some of these animals can live upward of 50 years, so do your homework.
BIRDS: Birds come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, personalities and intelligence levels. All birds require daily attention. For a first-time bird owner, an option such as a parakeet may be a good choice. Birds also can become expensive, so research what type of bird fits your home, lifestyle and budget. Some varieties can live upward of 95 years!
SMALL MAMMALS: Hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils are small mammals that are relatively easy to own and care for. Most will thrive in a small living space. Hamsters do best on their own, but gerbils and guinea pigs do best in same-sex pairs. Frequent, gentle handling promotes friendliness, but be aware that these little guys may bite, especially if they get scared.
RATS: Yes, rats! They make excellent pets due to their intelligence, larger size and social nature. Rats love people and thrive on human companionship.
SPAY/NEUTER DISCOUNTS: The Louisiana SPCA Community Clinic is offering $20.15 spay/neuter surgeries through August for all pets residing in Orleans Parish. In addition, microchips will be available at a reduced fee of $10 in conjunction with a spay/neuter surgery or wellness visit, and T-N-R for feral cats will be reduced to $10. Call (504) 363-1333 or visit www.la-spca.org/communityclinic.
CRITTER CINEMA: An overnight Valentine’s Day Critter Cinema extravaganza will be from 6 p.m. Feb. 14 to 9 a.m. Feb. 15 at the Louisiana SPCA, 1700 Mardi Gras Blvd., New Orleans. Animal-loving, pizza-eating, movie-watching kids ages 5 to 10 will play with puppies and kittens and enjoy a G-rated critter movie, crafts, games and more. Participants should bring a sleeping bag, pillow, toothbrush and PJs.
LOST OR FOUND PETS: In Orleans Parish, you can send a photo, description of your pet, date lost/found and your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org. In Jefferson Parish, email email@example.com and bbourgeois @jeffparish.net, and in St. Bernard Parish, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Traci D. Howerton is social media editor of Animal Rescue New Orleans, a nonprofit, volunteer-based, no-kill shelter. Contact ARNO at animalrescuecolumn@ gmail.com, www.animal rescueneworleans.org or call its recorded information line at (504) 571-1900.