Your parents weren't just being mean when they made it hard for you to get a puppy all those years ago. Taking care of an animal requires an enormous amount of patience and perseverance—not to mention quite a bit of money too! If you have any doubts about whether you can take care of an animal, don't get one. A neglected animal who has a home can suffer just as much as, and sometimes even more than, a homeless animal. Consider getting a virtual companion animal, like the Tamagotchi, Sony's Aibo robot dog, or a Neopet, instead.
If you know that you can handle the responsibility of having a companion animal, adopt one from an animal shelter or pound. Pet stores often get dogs from "puppy mills," breeding kennels that raise dogs in cramped, crude, filthy conditions without providing adequate veterinary care and socialization. People who buy puppy-mill dogs often put them up for adoption almost immediately because of the animals' poor health and behavior.
If you have your heart set on a particular breed, don't write off the shelter or pound just yet—you can find many purebred animals there, abandoned by people who discovered that they couldn't adequately care for these animals. Just be sure to do enough research to determine whether you can give them the full, happy lives that they deserve.
Guidelines for commercial companion-animal food are less strict than guidelines for food intended for humans. As a result, many companies get away with putting the ground-up remains of dead, dying, diseased, or disabled animals in the companion-animal food that they make. Not only does this put your beloved companion animal at serious risk for various health problems, it also contributes to the massive amounts of cruelty to animals and environmental destruction caused by factory farms.
Read more about the hazards of commercial companion-animal foods.
Instead of declawing your cat—10 separate amputations that involve the painful removal of claws, bones, and cartilage—simply commit to giving your kitty a quick manicure every couple of weeks or so. Provide cats with scratching posts and consider putting double-sided tape on whatever you don't want them to scratch.
It's best to keep companion animals at home rather than taking them on flights or even on long car trips. At the same time, always have a carrier handy in case a natural disaster strikes or some other emergency occurs that might require you to leave your home. Never evacuate without taking your companion animals with you—if you are prevented from doing so, be sure to leave at least 10 days' supply of clean water and dry food for your animals. Return to your home as soon as it is safe to do so, or ask someone you trust to check on them if you can't go back yourself.
Read more about helping animals during emergencies.