What's the perfect pet for a 7-year-old? There's not one. The better question is what pet are you willing to put your own effort into, once the new wears off?
First and foremost, this pet has to be something our dogs can't or won't eat. After taking that, allergies, cost and everything else under consideration, the only answer was to get the kid a fish tank. We've never been a fish-friendly household. Our two previous attempts ended in "burials at sea."
How to Keep a Fish Alive, And What We've Done Wrong Before
I did my research. Since the internet has far too much information for any person to consume and remember, here's the reader's digest version of what I learned from both the web and in-person Q&A with fish folk:
1) Even though the box on the fish tank you bought shows a picture of five fish swimming merrily in that starter-sized tank, a good rule of thumb is "one inch of fish per gallon of water." This means that if you have a single two-inch fish, it needs two gallons of water. Don't put five fish in two and a half gallons of water. Even if the picture on the box make it seem okay.
What we did wrong before: Put too many fish in a 2.5 gallon tank, there's not enough air/clean water for them to survive.
2) Don't buy the fish and the tank on the same day. The tank has to run for 24 to 48 hours with the chemical reducing drops added and get to the appropriate temperature BEFORE you add any fish. Once you bring the fish home, set the fish (while still in the bag) in the tank for temperature acclimation.
What we did wrong before: Obviously, we bought the fish and the tank on the same day.
3) One fish is enough. Unless you're ready to invest in a large fish tank, filters, test strips, chemical-removing agents, an algae eater, a heater...(the list goes on and on) you really only need a single fish. But some fish are schooling fish, which are best kept in odd numbers, and realistically need a bigger tank. Three schooling two-inch glow-fish need at least six gallons of water. Bigger tanks need to be cleaned more often. Bigger tanks are harder to clean. Back to the point - one fish. We chose a Betta. They're those pretty little fish kept in cups on the shelf.
What we did wrong before: Even though the store keeps their Bettas in a splash of unmoving water, you probably shouldn't do that. There's no reason a Betta can't be put in a real fish tank with a real filter and rocks and decor and all the trimmings. If you were a fish, would you want to live in a cup?
4) Feed the fish exactly how much food they need. Every single person from the internet, in the fish department, and even the lady at the checkout reminded me that the leading cause of fish death is overfeeding. If the fish eats too much, it dies. If the fish doesn't eat all the excess food, the eco-system "tanks" and the fish dies.
What we did wrong before: We let the kids feed the fish. We didn't read the directions.
This time, we asked all our questions, followed all the rules to the letter and have a seemingly happy Betta fish and a 7-year-old who, out of fear of killing his new friend, is capable of picking six tiny fish pellets out of the food container to feed the fish twice a day, as stated on the side of the bottle.
Welcome to the family, Oliver Scotland Bradley. Kids come up with weird names.