When our daughter wanted a new puppy, we were treated to a digital slide show with reasons we needed a beagle, complete with very cute photographs. Despite the compelling presentation we knew that the decision of when, whether, and what type of pet to adopt is best undertaken with a bit of research and planning.
There are lots of factors to weigh. Living in a downtown apartment? Maybe a Newfoundland puppy isn’t the best choice. Is your child’s best friend allergic to cats? Maybe a dog would be a better choice.
Books and websites with information on different types of pets are plentiful and can help you and your family make a decision about finding the “just-right” pet.
The first consideration will be whether a dog or cat is the best fit for your home and lifestyle. Beforeyougetapet.com is produced by the Veterinary College at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Based on extensive research about pet ownership, including the causes for pets being surrendered to shelters, this site is comprehensive in its approach to guiding decisions about pet ownership.
Perusing this site with your children could offer opportunities for meaningful discussion of the realities of pet ownership. With quizzes to test your knowledge of cats and dogs, lists of recommended supplies, and budget information on common pet-related expenses, this site enables users to make an informed decision. It even provides a suggested list of questions to ask, based on whether you are obtaining your pet from a friend, a pet store, a rescue group or shelter, an online source, or a breeder.
Once you’ve settled on a pet species, there are some books designed with kids in mind that can further help you. Most books will profile dogs by specific breed, giving the physical and behavioral characteristics that are typical. When choosing a mutt or mixed-breed dog, looking at the characteristics of various ancestors will give some idea of what to expect, particularly size and appearance.
The Everything New Puppy Book
The Everything New Puppy Book by Carlo De Vito and Amy Ammen is both kid-friendly and parent-worthy. The first fifth of the book is devoted to choosing the right dog, with emphasis on finding the right fit between a family’s lifestyle and the behavioral needs of different breeds of dogs. For example, the book notes that certain breeds need frequent exercise, room to run, and have “herding” instincts, which cause them to circle around children.
The book has information of value to parents, and children from about grade 4 and up will be able to read and garner worthwhile tips for choosing and caring for a dog. A particularly good section covers safety, with advice about the dangers of household and garage chemicals, toxic flower bulbs, and other hazards.
Books for kids
Two books specifically for the younger set are the Cat Encyclopedia for Kids and the Dog Encyclopedia for Kids. These books are best for browsing when you don’t have a particular breed or type of cat or dog in mind, but you will want to consult other sources as well.
Good Dog!, a Scholastic book by Nicola Jane Swinney, has large photographs that will appeal to even the youngest pet seekers, together with brief factual information adults can use as guidance in selecting a dog. One feature of this book that adds interest is a description of the history of each featured breed. The breeds are divided into groups, such as popular dogs, hunting dogs, farming dogs and unusual breeds. Good Dog! covers most well-known breeds, with the exception of the now-ubiquitous pit bull terrier. This book does not address training and safety needs specifically, so it’s a good place to start, but once you bring home a pet you may want other resources to guide you.
The Dog Encyclopedia
The Dog Encyclopedia, by DK, bears the subtitle “The definitive visual guide,” and it lives up to its billing. Weighing in at five pounds, this is not a book for your first-grader to carry home on the bus. Covering everything from the evolution of dogs to grooming and first aid, this book offers a history and description of each breed, and explanations of dogs’ biological systems and needs. For adults, this provides the opportunity to make informed judgments based on temperament, lifespan, size and more.
Hundreds of breeds are described in the book, organized based on their group characteristics and historic roles, and includes a section on crossbreeds, such as the Labradoodle, Goldendoodle and Puggle. If your child is doing a report on dogs, this would be an excellent reference source and dog lovers may want to read it cover to cover.
One thing the books did not address specifically is whether to get only one pet, or more than one. All I can say is that my daughter’s slide show was very persuasive. We adopted three beagles on a trip to the humane society.
Merrilee Witherell is the K-12 librarian at Red Creek Central School District. She lives in Cayuga County with her husband, daughter and dogs.