One of the best ways to make a personal connection is to demonstrate one! Once the kids see that I have a personal connection to pets, then they feel more inclined to share their own ideas and experiences. This not only helps me assess their prior knowledge, but their comfort level with the subject matter. They really get a kick out of seeing a picture of me on a paper!
A virtual Trip to the pet store - Cross curricular connections
One of the first things we do is take a virtual field trip to the pet store. This is a student led, teacher guided activity. The children talk about what a certain pet will need then I search for the items. We discuss which item is better, how much it costs, and the benefits of providing our pet with the item.
After our trip to the pet store, we use manipulatives like play money and coins to help us figure out how much certain items and food for our pets cost.