Cassandra Witham just got a rat terrier named Sophie. Her sister gave Sophie as a Christmas present. Witham loves the company but has had a few surprises over the last few weeks.

"I'd been looking for a pet for a while but I didn't know what to expect," said Witham. "Housebreaking her is tough and sometimes I feel guilty leaving her because I have to work so much."

Sophie is just another case of people turning to animals for companionship. However, choosing the right pet can be a tough process. Pamphlets, books, even websites are devoted to the subject.

According to, about 60 percent of households have at least one dog, cat or bird. Much consideration should be taken during the selection process. Popularity tends to be the prime factor when selecting a pet.

Steve Jones, animal science specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, warns against this practice.

Jones says, "People should avoid popularity as a major selection factor. Certain criteria involving space, time and location should be followed."

Space can play a major part in deciding which pet is best for you. If you live in an apartment, a St. Bernard might not be a good choice. Your location plays a major role in your pet's lifestyle. For people with larger pets, having a backyard can be important.

Certain pets require more time than others. Training a dog can consume a lot of time while a goldfish requires minimal involvement. If you have more than one type of pet, you should also consider how the pets will interact with each other. A python probably won't play well with your pet gerbil.

Cost is a major factor. Specific breeds of animals can cost quite a bit. Pure breeds can run over $1,000. However, a mixed breed can be picked up from your local animal shelter at a much lower price.

The right breed must be researched. Certain breeds are more high strung and need more maintenance than others.

Underestimating the responsibility that comes along with a pet is common. Jones cites training as the toughest part of raising a pet. Some people spend hundreds of dollars sending animals to obedience school with little results. By investing time, a person can save money and see better results.

In the end, the most important aspect of choosing a pet is the level of companionship you desire.

"You've got to think about what you want from a pet," said Jones. "Dogs are more loyal and friendlier than cats. Birds and fish don't give you much moral support. It's all about the amount of friendship you want from the animal."

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