Welcoming a new pet to your home can pose some surprising challenges. Find the right animal companion for you -- and learn how to integrate them into your daily life -- with practical tips from Martha.
Begin with a local veterinarian, who will likely know reputable breeders in the area. You can also go to shelters for referrals, or to cat or dog shows to meet breeders. National pet organizations, like the American Kennel Club or Cat Fanciers' Association, are another source. Once you find breeders, ask for references. If they're positive, take the next step and visit a breeder's home. Look for a clean, well-maintained place, where the animals have plenty of human contact, so they'll be well socialized. See how the mother interacts with her babies; if she's fearful, her offspring will be also. And use common sense: If your instincts tell you something's wrong, walk away. The best breeders will want to know about you, too, so expect lots of questions.
While all dogs can cause an allergic reaction, some breeds are less likely to trigger them. Certain dogs shed less fur and so cast less dander. But first, your husband should see his allergist to determine the severity of his allergies. If it turns out he's not too sensitive, you should still spend a good amount of time with any potential pet to see how your husband fares. If all goes well and you adopt, take steps to control the amount of dander in the home. First, make part of your home pet-free. Vacuum often, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. An air purifier with a HEPA filter can help too. Finally, bathe your pet weekly with a mild dog shampoo, and brush it frequently.
Birds make lovely companions, but choosing the right one for your circumstances is key. Steer clear of parrots, whose chatter will be audible in nearby apartments. Better choices include zebra finches, society finches, and colorful Gouldian finches. These birds are quite sociable; it's important to buy them in pairs, so that they will not become lonely when you're away from home all day. Be sure that their cage is large enough for them to fly about freely, with bars narrow enough to contain them. Discuss the breeds you are considering with a veterinarian who sees plenty of birds; she should be able to advise on where to buy them and how to help make the transition into their new home easier.
Some parakeets, as well as other birds, can learn to mimic human words with encouragement on your part, but not all will. Young male parakeets are the easiest to train. But, a pet bird won't want to mimic your words until it is able to identify with you as a friend. That's why the first step toward teaching your parakeet to talk is to interact with him often. Try four 10-minute talking sessions a day. (Recordings of words rarely work, because a bird responds to the sounds of its flock members -- in this case, you and your family.) Start by repeating words to your bird, making sure to speak clearly. When he has learned a word or phrase, move to another. If he likes you and has an inborn talent for mimicry, the bird will start to repeat the words; this can take anywhere from a week to several months.