Webkinz Online Pets: Does it Work?

Webkinz Online Pets: Does it Work?
By: Lauren Keith

"Have you guys heard of Webkinz?" I ask an excited bunch of first graders at St. Denis School in Benton, Missouri.
"I have four!" screams one excited child.
It seems half of the first grade knows all about the new Webkinz pets.  It's a toy that's gaining in popularity nationwide, and now making its way into the Heartland.  You see, these stuffed animals come to life on the computer screen.
"You get online and feed 'em and play with 'em! You can do everything!" says Grace Urhahn.
"I like to feed them and check in and see how they're doing," says Andrew Halter. 
First, you buy one of the stuffed animals for about $13 in stores.  Each animal has a different secret code in its tag.  You log on, type it in, and almost magically, your toy comes to life.  In this case, Clyde the Clydesdale even greets you with a kiss once you log on!  Now, you're a virtual pet owner.  In fact, the small monitor on the bottom of the screen lets you know if your pet is happy, healthy or hungry.  If that corresponding number gets low, then you have to fix it.
Kids can feed their pets by dragging the "food" into their special pet rooms.  They can even talk to the pet by scrolling down on the "speak" menu.  Plus, going to the doctor's office has never been so fun!  Dr. Quack actually puts up a screen while he inspects your pet.  He talks to you just like a real doctor would!
The Webkinz Web site also boasts itself as being super-safe, where only registered virtual pet owners can chat using kid-safe language.  I found that to be true.
Really, the only cost appears to be the initial $13 for the stuffed animal and secret code.  Once online, kids play trivia or arcade games to earn pretend money that they spend in the fake store, buying their Webkinz pet clothing and toys.  We put some basketball shoes on Clyde.  It seems everything works great with Webkinz, right?
Well, the day I was at St. Denis, we had major trouble trying to log on.
"It works, but today we may be having trouble!" says Grace.
That's for sure.  In fact, it took an entire hour before we could get to the adoption site and play with our Webkinz pets.  So, parents please note you must have high-speed internet with quality monitor resolution, or your child is going to be very disappointed.  The tag on the stuffed animal gives you an exact description of which computers this will work with.  Internet Explorer 6, Netscape 7/2 and AOL Explorer 1.5 work great.  
"I think it's a neat site, but one that might be addicting, for a lack of a better word.  Parents will definitely want to put a time limit on how much their kids can play on the computer.  I can see where the kids will constantly want to check in and see if their pet is "healthy" or hungry, so that's something to keep in mind.  After we finally got logged on, the kids really seemed to like it though," says teacher Miss Emily Seiler.
So, will Clyde like this week's letter grade?
"A plus!" shouts Grace Urhahn.
"I'd say a "C," says Miss Seiler. 
So, I'll compromise and hope a good grade "B" makes little Clyde happy on this Does it Work test.
I got my Webkinz stuffed animal at the Kirlins' Hallmark Store in West Park Mall in Cape Girardeau.  The store owner says they've had a tough time keeping the animals and related charms on the shelves.  Plus, market analysts predict Webkinz will be among the hottest Christmas toys this year.

If you log onto www.webkinz.com, you can take a site tour to check it out before you buy.  You can also click on the store locator, to find a store nearest you.