Timeout New York Kids

Make the most of your city

Pets and the city

Ready for a furry, scaly or winged addition? Read on to find which animal-from fish to dogs and everything in between-is the best fit for your family.


Anouk Weiss’s son, Griffin, loves walking their dog Bandit in their Upper East Side neighborhood. The problem is, Griffin’s only two. “He tries to hold the leash, but Bandit just runs all over the place. People on the street hate me,” says Weiss. “It was so much easier when Griffin was a baby in a Snugli. Try getting a dog down your apartment stairs with a toddler and a stroller!”

Having kids in the city inevitably turns your home into a zoo, but bringing a pet into already close quarters can boost the mayhem to another level. Obviously, it isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. “It’s important to know that your family is really ready,” says Gail Buchwald, a senior vice president at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City (ASPCA).

Of course you have to consider the time, energy and expense involved in taking care of a pet. But also sit down and discuss it as a family, making sure that everyone understands the responsibilities involved and agrees on how chores will be delegated. And don’t underestimate city-specific factors like the obligation of walking a dog (two to four times a day is recommended) or the expense of a dog walker; the need for separate spaces for your pet and young kids for the times when they’re not under your direct supervision; or the prospect of washing the fish tank out in the bath tub. Above all, experts urge that you step back and take a hard, rational look at why you want a pet. If the answer is one of the following, think twice:

Your kid’s been begging forever. Just because your child “really, really, really” wants one doesn’t mean he’s ready. “Some kids love looking at or petting animals in a zoo or store, but won’t end up being comfortable living with one,” says Buchwald. To test your child’s comfort level, you can take him to walk a dog or play with cats at a local shelter, or your family can even foster an animal (see “Part-time pets,” page 40). Also watch how he responds to a friend’s dog or cat.

You think a pet will teach your kid responsibility. “This is the biggest myth, and it almost never works,” says Buchwald. “If your child doesn’t clean his room now, he’s not going to start cleaning up because you got a dog.” Park Slope dad David Christenberry, whose family has two cats, a gecko and a hermit crab, agrees. “My kids are 16 and ten, and I still do 95 percent of the animal care. Declan, who’s ten, could do a lot for his gecko, but he just doesn’t.” Ultimately, your child’s pet is your responsibility.

“Awww, he’s so cute!” This is how thousands of animals end up abandoned or turned in to NYC shelters every year. Kittens are a lot less adorable when they’re pulling down the curtains at 3am, and puppies aren’t so irresistible when they miss the wee-wee pad for the 20th time.

Don’t get us wrong: If your family is ready and you’re prepared to make the commitment, having a pet in the city can be a wonderful experience. “My girls love our cat, Moses, so much,” says Rebecca Dhuru, a Chelsea mom of two. “They’ve learned to be gentle and affectionate with all animals.” Once you’ve put about as much thought into getting a pet as you did into having a baby, you get to play the “Select a Species” game. Here’s what you’ll need to know about each of the five top contenders:

Pocket pets
Reptiles /amphibians

Also be sure to check out:

Animal houses: The city’s full of wild things. Here’s where to find one of your very own.
Dog day afternoons: These parks offer play areas for Mama’s little precious—and children, too.
Part-time pets: Enjoy the warm-and-fuzzy benefits of being around an animal—without the commitment.
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