Choosing the Perfect Family Pet :: It’s Not All Cats and Dogs

I am an animal lover. I love conservation, wild animals, animal adoptions, and all things in the animal world. However, when it comes to having a pet in my home, I have a high set of requirements for my love. We are a busy family with a revolving schedule that even our calendar can’t keep up with. We are also a family of seven, and there are more opinions than mismatched socks in my house. Picking a family pet that brings joy to our lives rather than another task to keep up with? It takes finesse.

A year ago, we had a cat, three fish, and a hermit crab — plus a mom, a dad, a grandma, and five kids. It felt like a full house.

So when my daughter decided she wanted a pet of her own, I was less than thrilled. Her first pick was a snake. And as much as I wouldn’t mind a pet snake, you will not catch me dealing with, well, let’s just say, snake “meal times.” It was a hard NO. So she went back to the drawing board and chose another lizard — a bearded dragon.

I made a deal with her: She had to do all the research to learn what a bearded dragon needs both to survive and to be happy. Then, if she would raise the money for the lizard, I would pay for the enclosure. Take this from me, moms — before making that deal, do your OWN research!

My daughter worked for months to raise the $150 needed, and she wrote “research” papers and notes about what goes into having a bearded dragon as a pet. About $800 in supplies, an enclosure, and heat sources later, we are the proud owners of Tiny, the bearded dragon.

In her quest for her new best friend, we learned a lot along the way, not only about the care needed for these animals, but about pets in general. We looked into whether it is ethical to own an exotic pet, and how to find reputable breeders. My daughter discovered a lot of misinformation, especially from the large chain pet stores, and had to start considering her sources. Then, we needed to know what type of vet to use for a certain animal in an emergency, as typical vets do not know the intricacies of exotic pets.

In this journey, I have also fallen in love with a lizard! She’s the best pet and a great addition to our family. It has had me thinking a lot about pets in general. They can be so uplifting and a part of the family if you choose the right kind of pet.

When people think of pets, they automatically go to cats and dogs. While cats and dogs are the most common family pets, they each have drawbacks. For me, any animal that depends on me for something on their own schedule, like a dog going out to do its business, is not for me. I love my cat, and she is pretty independent. But she becomes a tripping hazard far more often than I’d like to admit — and she has pretty judgey eyes.

Picking the right pet for your family (even if it ends up being a pet rock!) takes some thought about what you are able to offer an animal. Just because a cat or dog doesn’t fit into your life doesn’t mean there are not options. Lizards are great for the busy family, as they eat less often and only tolerate humans in smaller doses. Small mammals take a bit more consistent cleanup and feeding, but they can be really cuddly.

When picking a pet, look away from the “puppy eyes” in those commercials, and think about how you can bring in an animal that gives you some balance. And think outside the box!  What started as an absolute NO to my daughter became my new favorite animal, and I’ve gained a new appreciation for lizards!

Michelle is a lifelong New Englander who lives in Stoneham and works in Charlestown. She is a preschool and toddler teacher at a small private preschool and holds a master's degree in early childhood education, which has come in useful at both work and home. She has a supportive stay-at-home-dad for a husband and is a mom of five children. She has three boys in middle and high school, plus two girls in elementary school. Michelle teaches infant and toddler classes for early ed teachers, runs workshops for parents through Boston Naps, and runs her own business, The Parenting Survival Expert, offering parenting tips and support. In her spare time, she can be found reading a murder mystery novel, sipping far too much coffee, and dreaming of a home in the mountains.

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