Responsible children can and do care for small animals like gerbils. My step sons trained gerbils to run obstacle courses, to 'sit up' for a treat, to come when called and to race (each had a gerbil in a car the gerbils run by running in the wheel, two different colored cars of course). The kids had a ball with the gerbils and the gerbils sure had fun too.
Guinea Pig Dress Cookie Monster and Pom Poms! (stock A)