The holidays are here, and this is the time of year that families often consider getting a pet. 

Many parents, however, automatically think of a cat or dog and may be hesitant to make the 15- to 20-year commitment that comes with them.

If the responsibility of a cat or dog seems daunting, there are several other options. The following are some alternative pets to consider:

Insects & arthropods: Think ant farms. These tiny critters can be both entertaining and educational but are fairly low-maintenance. There are several options for ant farms, and live ants can even be shipped through the mail. Check local pet stores or online to find the perfect set-up for your home. The key is to make sure kids know not to open the ant farm once the ants are inside or the ants will escape. Hermit crabs are another low-maintenance option.

Fish: A fish may be the perfect starter pet for a child. However, some are more difficult to care for than others. Goldfish are popular choices, but they can actually be high-maintenance. 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 any fancy equipment such as filters, heaters or chemicals.

Reptiles: Given the chance, reptiles can make interesting and educational pets. What’s more, they are non-allergenic. Look into turtles, tortoises, iguanas and snakes as options. Please note that some of these animals can live upward of 50 years, so do some research.

Birds: Birds come is a wide variety of shapes, sizes, personalities and intelligence levels. All birds require daily attention. For a first-time bird owner, a parakeet may be a good choice. Birds can also become expensive pets to own, so do some homework to see 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 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, that’s right, rats! They make excellent pets due to their intelligence, larger size and social nature. Rats love people and thrive on human companionship.

Owning and caring for a pet is a rewarding experience, especially for a child. Pets can provide hours of companionship, fun and lessons in responsibility.

Before considering adding any new 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 of any pet. Rather, pet ownership is a responsibility to be shared by all family members.


DECEMBER: During "Home for the Holidays," adoptable animals 6 months and up will be available for $60. With the holiday delivery program, a $100 donation will have your newly adopted pet delivered on either Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. This program is available for all animals adopted from the Louisiana SPCA two weeks before the desired delivery date. For more information, visit

SATURDAY: Meet adoptable animals from the Louisiana SPCA from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Clearview Mall, 4436 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie. Adoption counselors and volunteers will be on hand to help you select the perfect rescue pet. A bake sale will be held to benefit the Special Needs Fund. For more information about adoption, visit

SATURDAY: The free class "Feral Cat TNR, The Basics and Beyond" will be taught at the Louisiana SPCA from 10 a.m. to noon. Learn how to get started, how to mediate problems, advocate for cats and how to solve difficult trapping situations, as well as about the municipal ordinances in Orleans Parish as they pertain to cats. Register in advance at

DONATIONS: The Humane Society of Louisiana accepts donations of used vehicles, boats and SUVs. Proceeds from their sale will support the group's statewide humane initiatives and the operation of its two no-kill sanctuaries. The group is currently caring for 30 formerly abused and neglected horses and an assortment of donkeys, goats, cats and dogs. For information, call (901) 268-4432.

LOST OR FOUND PETS: In Orleans Parish, send a photo, description of your pet, date lost/found and your contact info to In Jefferson Parish, send to and In St. Bernard Parish send to

Traci D. Howerton is the volunteer coordinator and marketing director of Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO), a nonprofit, volunteer-based, no-kill shelter. For topic suggestions, email or for more info on ARNO, visit