Over half of all British and US families keep an animal as a pet. Families with children are most likely to have pets, but other people, especially old people, often keep a pet for company. Some animals belong to a group of people: for example, many British railway stations, old people’s homes and even offices have a resident cat.The most popular pets for children include cats, dogs, birds, fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and mice, and children are usually expected to help take care of their pet. Older people are more likely to have a cat or dog, or perhaps a budgerigar. Since dogs and cats have different characters and needs, many people have a strong preference for one or the other. People who say that they are dog people like the fact that dogs like to go for walks, enjoy being touched and need lots of attention. Cat people like cats because they are independent. Other people prefer exotic pets, such as snakes, spiders, iguanas and stick insects. Many pets can be bought at a pet shop, though people often buy dogs and cats direct from breeders or from homes for stray (= lost) animals.Most pets are treated as members of the family. People buy special pet food and biscuits, or sometimes fresh fish or meat. Pets have their own place to sleep, bowls to eat from and toys to play with. There are even clothes for pets, and salons where their fur is washed and cut.Pets are a responsibility which must be taken seriously. Dog owners in the US have to buy a dog licence (AmE dog license) which allows them to keep a dog. This was formerly also the case in Britain. Pure-bred dogs may also be taken to local and national shows where there are prizes for the best of each breed. But many people are not bothered about having a pure-bred dog and are happy with a mongrel (AmE mutt).A few dogs are kept outside and sleep in a kennel (AmE doghouse). Most, however, like cats, are allowed to go where they like inside the house. Most dogs wear a collar, with a small metal disc attached giving the dog’s name and address. In the US there are laws in most places requiring dogs to be kept on a leash (BrE lead). People teach their dogs to walk to heel (AmE heeling) and not to jump up at people. Some also teach them to do tricks like fetching or begging. Some people take their dog to obedience school (BrE obedience classes) for training. There is now pressure for dog owners to clear up any mess left by their dog, and people can be fined for not doing so.Cats are less trouble to look after. They can often enter or leave their house as they please through a cat flap. If they are kept inside they are trained to urinate in a litter tray filled with cat litter (= a special absorbent material). Many cat owners give their cats a flea collar and a disc with their name and address on it in case they get lost.Looking after a pet properly can be quite expensive. Many British people pay for their dog to stay at a local kennels, or their cat at a cattery when they go on holiday. In the US there are pet motels. Many people take out insurance to cover medical treatment by a vet and animals with emotional problems can be taken to a pet psychologist. When a pet dies many people bury it in their garden, but others arrange for it to be buried in a special pet cemetery.If people do not want a pet of their own they can sponsor an animal through a charity and receive regular information about it. Many people also put out bird tables containing food for wild birds.
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