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Choosing a pet: Would a parakeet, hamster, or dog be best for you?

You've talked to your parents, and they say yes: you can have a pet! Here are some things to think about when deciding what kind of pet you want. Involve your whole family in the decision. Go to a library and read books on different kinds of pets, such as dogs, cats, hamsters, and birds. Talk to a veterinarian. Ask friends about their pets.

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests some questions your whole family should ask before getting a pet.

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Do you live in a big house or an apartment? Would your family want the pet to have free access to all areas of the house? Would you laugh if you found fur in your morning cereal? Would your mother or father laugh? Do you have an area where the animal can be exercised regularly? If you got a dog, would you obey leash laws and pooper scooper laws?

Do you want a pet you can romp with, like a dog, or one that you can enjoy quietly, such as a gerbil? How often will you be able to wash your pet, clean its cage, or give it exercise? Would you prefer an animal that needs some care daily, or one that needs a lot of care twice a week or weekly?

Parents should help you learn the responsibility of caring for a pet, which can usually be shared by all of your family. Even younger brothers or sisters can join in.A five-year-old can help give an animal fresh water every day, feed it a biscuit, or brush it.

There are many different animals that make good pets. Dogs are very popular. They make very good friends. Dogs also need a lot of care and attention. And if you live in the city, you probably won't be the one to take the dog out for a walk at 10 o'clock at night. Your parents will probably do that.

Dogs are very social and loyal. They always want to please you, so they are easily trained. Dogs cannot be left alone as often as other pets, such as cats. You have to give a dog plenty of companionship and exercise.

Cats are more self-sufficient than dogs. They need affection, but only when they want it. There are times when you might want to cuddle your cat, but it will not like being held. Then when you are trying to read or be quiet, the cat will jump on your lap or rub against your legs. Cats don't need as much space as dogs, so they are good apartment pets.

Cats can be taught some games and tricks. Most cats will clean themselves, but some need to be brushed.

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Some animals have to be caged. They are totally dependent on you for food, water, and and a clean home. You can't forget to take care of them, because they won't remind you, like dogs and cats sometimes will.

Rabbits can be let out of their cage while you are around. They are usually gentle, and don't like loud noises. Some rabbits can be litter trained, but some are messy.

Birds are "charming and very amusing" pets, says one bird owner. Parakeets are affectionate and adventurous. You can sometimes let them out of thier cages , too. Canaries are another popular bird. They sing and play and talk to you.

Rodents like guinea pigs, mice, rats, and hamsters must always be caged, except when handled. Even in cages, they have a lot of personality. Guinea pigs like to communicate by making noises and running around in their cage. Mice are acrobatic. Hamsters are "solitary and nocturnal," but they can learn tricks. Rats love to be handled, and they are very intelligent. They can be let out of their cage once in a while.

Some people try to make pets from animals in the wild. This is often illegal.Many state and federal laws protect native animals from being captured.

"Most wild animals aren't very good pets," says Stephen Wachman, assistant director of the Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton, Massachusetts. "They often bite and become troublesome. There are so many other animals that make good pets, that you don't have to take one from the wild."

Once you have a pet, remember that he or she has feelings, just like friends and family.

"You shouldn't get angry at him," says Carol Lea Benjamin, who has written several books on pets, including "Dog Training for Kids." "A pet has the right to rest and privacy. When he is asleep, don't just bounce on him. Call him by name."

Pets can help you with school work, too. Read books about other dogs or parakeets or guinea pigs. Write a poem or story about your pet for a writing class. Draw a picture.

One of the best things about a pet is the affection that you give and get. You don't have to be neat or get good marks at school for a pet. Sometimes you can tell a pet things that you want to keep secret. No matter what else is happening, your pet will love you.

"It feels nice to be needed and to care for a pet," says Carol Lea Benjamin. "Pets are fun and graceful and natural and a fascinating education."

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