•Loss of a loved one or a pet often motivates people to acquire a new pet in an effort to lessen the impact of the loss. Assess your feelings about what you are willing to invest emotionally under these circumstances. Appreciate your new pet's individuality; don't make comparisons.
•Studies show that raising children with pets helps them to be more compassionate and sensitive. Teach children to respect the animal by interacting through daily care and appropriate play. An older pet experienced with children may be less challenging for a family.
•You want protection. While some dogs can provide a level of security, the primary role of a pet should be that of a companion.
But think long-term
Acquiring a pet can be a 17-year commitment. Anticipate lifestyle changes that may present unique challenges for you and your pet and be prepared to make adjustments:
•Starting out on your own may provide the impetus to acquire a pet, but being the animal's sole caregiver can be socially and professionally restrictive. A potential first-time pet owner can get a feel for this special bond before committing in various ways — volunteering at a shelter, fostering an animal or watching a friend's or relative's pet.
•Moving often triggers temporary behavior problems requiring understanding and tolerance. You might have to retrain your pet to adjust.
•A couples' first "baby" is often their pet treated like a child. But behavior that is acceptable in the absence of children is often problematic when kids come along. The pet's world changes and, most likely, so do the rules. Dogs are particularly sensitive to change. Set rules and a routine in the beginning that won't change even if your family does.
•"Empty-nesters" may feel loss when children leave home. Caring for a pet provides a sense of purpose but can also impede newfound freedom.
•Retirement provides time to spend with a pet, but consider your plans and whether a pet can be included. Will you relax at home, travel or possibly relocate? A small dog is a wise choice for traveling. A husky would be a poor choice if kenneled often or you relocate to a warm climate.
•As we approach the "golden years," often our spirit is willing, but our bodies aren't quite up to task. Caring for a puppy or kitten can be exhausting. Seniors would do well to consider an older or smaller, more manageable dog.
Make the perfect match
Do your research. Consider the age, size, weight, temperament, energy, health and life expectancy of the new pet and the people in the household.
Assess the size and location of your residence. If you live in an apartment, consider a cat or a quiet dog requiring minimal exercise. A mastiff or a Great Dane, although large, needs less activity than a Jack Russell terrier. All pets require exercise or they can become depressed, overweight or destructive. The amount depends on the individual. A walk around the block can seem like a marathon to a bulldog but is just a warm-up to a Labrador retriever.
Breeds have specific traits and tasks for which they were bred. If the origin of a mixed breed is unknown, so are the traits, but most bad traits are extinguished in mixed breeds through natural selection. An animal's personality is based both on inherent traits and environmental influences.
The perfect match between a pet and owner is precious. It's your job to create it.