Pets are a wonderful thing to many people. They are close companions, they're loyal, they sometimes save their owner's lives, and they relate to people on an emotional level that is different from connections with other humans.
But for every pet owner there is a first pet. And it is a real learning experience.
It turns out pets aren't just shiny new toys. They are a huge responsibilty. They need attention, they make messes, they can get in your way, they need to be cared for on a regular schedule, they cost money in food and veterinary bills, and they are always full of surprises. All of this tends to come as a shock to first-time pet-owners.
This is a story which focuses on the main character or characters getting a pet and dealing with all the problems and joys that come along with it, usually being completely unprepared for what they get. In most stories, there is a happy ending in which the owners get the hang of this pet-owning thing, and welcome a new and beloved member into the family. Sometimes however, they realize that they either can't cope or aren't committed enough, and the animal has to go.
If the person getting the new pet is a small child, expect it to be either a goldfish or a puppy. Goldfish are popular choices for savvy parents because the little creatures take up almost no space and are very low-maintenance. Unfortunately, they also have a fairly short life-expectancy, and are likely to die if fed improperly or if the bowl isn't cleaned out frequently enough. Expect a Dead Pet Sketch to follow, and this scenario is even the trope namer for the Replacement Goldfish trope.
Puppies on the other hand, are the most often requested by the child in question, and are also among the highest maintenance. They are energetic, messy, loud, in constant need of attention, and typically require a lot of training. But they're just so cute!
However, despite all the problems, the characters will often find that the pet is a joy unlike any they have ever known. They have found a creature who is loving and loveable, and quickly makes itself part of the family. Maybe the animal even completes them in some way, opening them up emotionally or teaching them responsibilty and patience. They will probably be surprised to find how hard it would be if they lost the animal.
Truth in Television in that many people are unprepared the first time they bring an animal into their lives. People also have a tendency not to figure out what would be a good kind of pet before getting one.Large working breeds of dog typically don't get on very well in a tiny apartment. Unfortunately, Real Life also has a lot more people who often decide the pet just isn't worth the hassle, and dump it on the streets or in a shelter instead.
Just because a character has a pet and it happens to be their first does not qualify as this trope. There needs to be a significant focus on dealing with learning how to care for and love the animal.
- My Roommate is a Cat: When Subaru decides to take in a stray cat, he initially thinks he can just let her roam in his house and feed her whenever her bowl is empty. It takes prompting from other people to give her a name, get her a collar, and take her to the vet.
- In Beethoven a boisterous St. Bernard is adopted by the Newton family.
- Lilo & Stitch has elements of this. Lilo expects a dog to drink out of a baby bottle and sleep in a doll bed, and Nani is inclined to return him to the pound when things don't seem to be working out. Stitch, however, is not a normal pet, so most of the incidents in the movie are not consistent with what would happen getting a real dog.
- The Berenstain Bears has a book about the Bear family getting a puppy named Lady and learning to take care of her.
- Philip Hall Likes Me I Reckon Maybe has a chapter in which Beth's parents agree that she can get a puppy. Her discovery that she is allergic to dogs causes issues as she desperately tries to find a way around the allergy or find a breed of dog that won't make her sick. She is unable to find a dog that she can keep, and has to deal with giving up on the idea of having a dog of her own.
- My Dog Skip - Willie Morris is unable to make friends as a kid so his mom gets a terrier puppy for him because his only friend (A high school student) goes to fight in WWII, the dog which he names Skip goes on to enrich his life as well as become well loved by the community.
- Marley & Me - The story of writer and columnist John Grogan and his family's dog Marley, who is a manic, energetic and not that bright, that same unruly dog manages to win them over both because of his crazy antics (Marley can actually chew thru drywall) and because of moments that show that he is truly the most loyal friend the couple can have.
- In My Friend Flicka Ken is already familiar with horses, but getting a filly of his own is the first time he truly shoulders the burden of responsibility, and has to actually deal with the issues that come up.
- Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing has a significant plot thread following Peter caring for his new pet turtle, Dribble.
- Little Critter trades a baseball glove to a friend in exchange for a puppy in the book Just Me And My Puppy; his parents let him keep it as long as he cares for the puppy. Hilarity Ensues as he's shown feeding, walking and cleaning his new pet.
- Full House covered this more than once. First was an episode dedicated to the family getting a dog. In a later episode, Michelle got a goldfish as her first pet. She accidentally killed it, but was later able to overcome her sadness by taking better care of the second goldfish. Other episodes covered the kids trying to get animals like a horse and a donkey, and running into the issues that come with those animals.
- The title character on Monk had a great dislike for animals in general. There was one episode though, in which he had to care for a dog and (despite his initial protests) found himself getting to really like it. Ultimately, he decided to give the dog and her new puppies to a little girl and her family because he thought the dog would be happier and better off with them.
- The Haunting Hour: In "Best Friends Forever", Jake has trouble keeping his pets alive for more than a week, so he gets a zombie as a pet, who can't die.
- 101 Dalmatians: The Series: Somewhat unusual since the main characters are themselves pets, but in the episode "He Followed Me Home", the pups take in a stray baby elephant that got seperated from a circus. They treat the elephant as their pet and they try to feed it, clean it, and keep it out of trouble all while keeping it's existence a secret from Cruella. In the end, they realize that keeping a pet is too much responsibility for them, and let it return to the circus.
- An episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic had Rainbow Dash decide that she wanted a pet and hold a contest to decide which one she wanted. Her initial decision was based on the fact that all her friends had pets and she just wanted to jump on the band wagon. Her main concerns were that she get a pet that was "cool" and that would make her look good. Over the episode she learns that it is more important that a pet be an animal with whom she could share love and affection. She ends up with a turtle (tortoise!) that saved her life, which she dubs Tank.