As a veterinarian and a pet lover, it has been very important for me to raise my kids to be responsible pet owners. I have worked hard to teach them to treat animals gently and with patience and care. I have also made sure they understand the work involved in keeping a pet. When we got Inara last year, we did so with the understanding that the kids would take care of her, feed her, clean up her messes, and so on. And for the most part, they have done so. Feeding all of the pets is part of their daily chores, and my daughter is learning about the proper care of bearded dragons.
Now, this is easy for me with my own children since I get to see them and interact with them every day. It's harder to do this with other children. Some of the children of my clients seem off to a good start, and their parents are obviously trying to show them the right way to have a pet. Others, however, will grab their new puppy or kitten without regard for their own strength or the potential to harm the pet. I know it's hard to manage the kids and pets at the same time, but I also wish some people would do a better job raising their children into good pet owners.
My kids came across an interesting new web site, Foo Pets. This site has virtual dogs and cats and requires the kids to interact with, feed, water, and groom the pets daily. If they don't work on proper care, the pet will suffer. It was apparently started by a veterinarian to help develop these skills in children, and it's an interesting concept. Truthfully, I'm not sure how well it might work, since there are no real consequences if the child completely abandons the virtual pet and let's it "die". However, I think it's a good start, and an potentially good learning tool when supervised by an adult. If the child can't properly take care of a virtual puppy or kitten, they certainly aren't ready for the responsibility of a real one.
Children need to be involved in proper pet care from an early age, and are never too young to learn how to take care of the animals in their lives.