SALLY ANDERSEN HAS been rescuing dogs in Hong Kong for the past 19 years. A couple of days a week she takes a sampan from Lamma to Hong Kong Island to visit the government kennels where stray and abandoned dogs are temporarily housed. There she selects the most suitable dogs for adoption and takes them back to Lamma, where she keeps as many as 60 dogs in two adjacent houses - one for small dogs and the other for big dogs and puppies. She feeds them, walks them, plays with them and, in some cases, nurses them back to health until she finds them homes. Those she leaves behind at the kennels are destroyed within four days. Andersen has saved hundreds of dogs, but sadly it's a drop in the ocean when you consider that about 40,000 dogs are abandoned in Hong Kong every year - and at least 35,000 of those are put down. Many of these dogs were bought in good faith by loving families who simply chose an unsuitable breed for their domestic situation, or didn't know how much of a commitment looking after an animal would be. In many cases, the pressure to get a pet comes from the children. The begging and pleading starts the moment your child's friend gets a pet and subsides only when an animal is ensconced in your home. Unfortunately, parents don't always stop to consider the responsibility a pet brings. SPCA deputy director of welfare Fiona Woodhouse says the decision to get a pet is a big one. 'A pet is for life,' she says. 'It's not a toy. And with pets come responsibility in terms of time, space and financial commitment if that pet becomes sick. 'Some animals live upwards of 15 years, so it's the same commitment as having a child.' One of the most common scenarios seen by animal welfare groups is that of a cute puppy bought as a present for a child. 'Of all the dogs I've placed, I get more puppies returned than anything else,' says Andersen. 'It's nice that small puppies will grow up with children, but there's the biting, chewing, the toilet training. Have you got the patience?' That's not to say that a child's plea for a family pet should be ignored. Children and animals can be a great combination. And during the past 30 years the significant health and social benefits that children can derive from pets has been scientifically confirmed. Andersen recommends that families with small children get an older puppy - five or six months - that has adult teeth and is toilet trained, but young enough to form bonds with the children. Parents also need to consider carefully what breed of dog to choose. Cocker spaniels, for instance, are prone to 'spaniel rage' that can make them bite. Even the golden retriever has its difficulties, particularly those bred locally that can have behavioural problems. Many pure breeds are also prone to hip displacia - when the hip joints aren't fully formed - and have sensitive digestion systems that will lead to expensive trips to the vet. Andersen is a big fan of mongrels, which she says make perfect family pets. 'They're stronger, health-wise, and have better natures.' Gauging an animal's temperament, especially when you have children, is also important. It's no good taking on board an aggressive, anti-social animal when you have a young family. 'If you want a dog, look at it from a social perspective, not just what it looks like,' says Hong Kong vet Chris Cooper. 'The temperament is paramount. It's a good idea to go for a breed that has a record of good temperament, like a shih tzu. The best thing is to ask your vet.' Of course, many Hong Kong families don't have room for a dog, or may not be allowed one in the building. Which is why the SPCA is able to find homes for twice as many cats as dogs every year. Cats are great social educators for children and easier to look after than dogs. You could also try hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs or even terrapins to introduce your children to the idea of what it means to have a pet. 'Animals teach children about careful handling and gentleness,' says Cooper. '[They] teach children how to care for another living animal, how an animal can have hunger, thirst, pain and give love. [They] teach children social responsibility and an understanding that if they don't care properly for the pet, the pet will suffer.' Woodhouse says that educating children to respect animals is vital. 'The SPCA's education programme targets kindergartens and primary schools and teaches children about responsible pet ownership and animal welfare.'