If you're interested in a particular breed, like a Labrador or a Siamese, look for rescue groups that save and adopt that breed. If you'd rather go to a breeder, get recommendations from friends or a veterinarian; if you're answering a classified ad, ask the breeder to give you references from other pet owners who've bought their animals. That will help you know that the animals are raised in a healthy, loving environment.
But there's no reason to stick to purebreds. Mixed breed cats and dogs make great pets, too -- and they often have fewer genetic problems!
Dogs and cats aren't the only animals you can find through rescue organizations. Did you know that there are rescue groups for rabbits, turtles, birds, and even horses and livestock? If you're looking for a certain type of animal and would like to adopt rather than buy, ask a local veterinarian for suggestions.
Things to keep in mind when choosing your pet
Never select a pet on impulse. No matter how cute that mouse is, make sure you've done all your homework BEFORE you enter the pet store.
Choose your pet wisely. Research the species or breed you're considering. Books, magazines, and Web sites offer lots of information about various kinds of animals, what kind of pets they can be, and how much care they require.
Get to know the animals. Visit, or even volunteer, at humane societies or animal rescue organizations in your area. Spend time with some of the animals. Many shelters allow you to take a dog for a walk so you can get to know him or her and see what the personality is like. Observe the pet when it's alone with you and try to make a mental list of its positive and negative points.
Find out about leash, licensing and vaccination laws in your city BEFORE you bring a pet home. You can usually find this information on your town's city government Web site.
Next: Taking Care Of Your Pet