The first pet I ever had was a big, fat gray cat we named Pepper.

I must have been 4 or 5 years old when I — along with some of my friends from the neighborhood — found him in what we called the Empty Lot. For some reason, there was no structure here, just a sandy, vacant lot right between two otherwise normal homes.

I went and got my mother, and for some reason, we took the cat in. Later, another cat we named Mittens — for obvious reasons — joined the family.

Eventually, we learned I was allergic to cats, despite an allergist's claims to the contrary. It turned out that my mother was too. We never got rid of the cats — they were part of the family — but we did have to limit their movement around the house.

The cats were older when we found them, or more correctly when they found us, so when they passed, we didn't replace them. Later, a dog, Daisy, was added to the family, the first of many dogs that I've had to this day.

The path of my childhood is also full of tiny graves for hamsters, mice, turtles, goldfish and even a rabbit. Those were fun, and they can make excellent pets for younger children, but I think a dog or a cat can truly become part of a family.

Pets offer companionship and can teach kids important life lessons, as staff writer Angie Campbell writes in her story on Page 29. You may already have a pet and know the benefits firsthand, but if you don't — and if your kids are begging for a pet — check out this story. Angie talked to local experts and has advice on choosing the perfect pet, training and more.

October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. If you do decide to add a pet to your family, I personally suggest you adopt from a local shelter or pet adoption organization.

My current dog, Penny, came from the Greenville Humane Society. She's a Jack Russell (or at least mostly so!) and has been a great addition to the family. I joke that she was plug and play: she came fully housebroken and is very well behaved.

Now, she's fully spoiled.

What more could one ask for?

There are lots of things to do during October — including many Halloween-centric activities — and we've got the goods. Chris Worthy's story on Page 29 is a great primer for Halloween 2015, but be sure to check out the rest of the issue, including our special focus on toddler-friendly activities in our Ages & Stages section on Page 38.

And, on, you'll find additional activities, compiled and updated regularly by staff writer Angie Campbell.

Trick or treat!

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