My son was diagnosed with an allergy to dogs. You know, one of those skin-pricking tests they do on babies. Turns out my son was also allergic to a long list of other things like nuts, eggs, soy, wheat, cats, etc. But, since his dog allergy wasn’t life threatening, we decided to keep Jelly. Best decision ever and a healthy one, too.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, I was devastated. The city had been my first home in the U.S.—my college town. I was also going through my third or fourth failed pregnancy and the tragedy didn’t gel with my hormonal roller coaster. I wanted to help. Then I heard they were transporting some of New Orleans’ rescued dogs to my new city of Boca Raton. That’s when I first spotted Jelly; not the prettiest dog, not an alpha dog, just a scared, funny-looking pup sitting in a cage wagging his tail while the rest barked incessantly for attention.

Today, Jelly is about eight years old, and both my son and daughter benefit greatly from having him around. The baby is completely entertained by him and he’s a great guard dog. Pets play an important role in our lives, but are they beneficial for kids?

New research in the journal Pediatrics showed that children who live in a home with a pet during their first year of life are more likely to be healthier compared with kids who don’t live in a pet-owning household. Dr. Danielle Fisher, of St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., told the Los Angeles Times that “exposure to pets early in life can stimulate the immune system to do a better job of fighting off infection.”

But before you bring a first dog home, here’s what you need to know.

Dogs have feelings, too. No matter what skeptics think, once you bring a dog home you cannot abandon him. That’s why you need to be very sure and ready to commit. If your child gets bored of playing with him, or the dog pees all over your expensive rug, don’t blame the animal, you simply need to spend more time training him. 70% of people who get pets end up abandoning them. Don’t be one of them.

Don’t buy a dog, adopt one! First, you are saving a life. According to the ASPCA, approximately 3 to 4 million animals are euthanized yearly (60% of dogs and 70% of cats). Secondly, it’s a proven fact that rescued animals get sick a lot less and are way more grateful and loyal, not to mention how street smart they are. If you want a special breed, try Petfinder. There are no excuses. Last but not least, adopted dogs not only cost very little, they’re often already house trained and neutered. Need I say more?

Pets are good for your child’s social development. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “Developing positive feelings about pets can contribute to a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. A good relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy.”

If you should decide to get a friend with four paws and a bark, remember to follow dog trainer Cesar Millan’s fulfillment formula with your dog: Exercise, discipline, and then affection.  When you do, everyone will smile—even the dog.