Pick the Right Pet
Adding a pet companion to your family is a very important step and should not be taken lightly. Too many pets wind up in shelters each year because prospective owners did not take behavioral training, healthcare, or bonding time into consideration. It is vital to keep your family situation, lifestyle, home space, financial resources, and even basic patience in mind when you choose a pet!
Guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, mice, and rats are ideal starter pets. They are smaller and a bit more "independent" than dogs or cats. However, they have shorter life spans, and they do require regular cage cleaning.
Rabbits may be considered a step up from pocket pets, and they are a bit more unusual for many households. Rabbits are generally more loveable than the average gerbil or mouse, but they do need more quality attention and frequent, careful habitat cleaning.
Ferrets are fun and curious little creatures, but that means they'll need quite a bit of playtime and stimulation. Like rabbits and pocket pets, ferrets need frequent cage care and maintenance.
Reptiles and Avians (Birds)
Reptiles and birds require much more specialized care and investment in duplicating their "natural" diets and environments. Their general care and housing need to be specifically maintained, or these pets can become ill. Reptiles are more often "conversation pieces," but birds can be very interactive long-term companions, with some species living up to 30-40 years or more.
Cats are much more self-sufficient than dogs, but that can mean less play or snuggle-bonding time, and of course, cats really aren't made to be good walking companions. If your family is busy with jobs, after-school activities, travel, etc., a cat may actually fit well into your home, as they don't require as much social time as dogs do.
Dogs are inherently social pack animals. They need you to be home with them, and they need to go for walks for exercise, to relieve themselves, and to share quality time with you. Different types of dogs will need different levels of activity and stimulation; they'll have different attitudes and grooming requirements as well. Your Stream Valley veterinary staff, the local library, and the internet (try the American Kennel Club http://www.akc.org or Dog Fancy Magazine http://www.dogfancy.com) can be great resources for information that will help you choose the right dog for you.