"PETS" is not a four-letter word!
Of late I have been troubled by an ever-growing controversy among the ranks of exotic animal owners (note I did not say “pet” owners). In our attempts to justify our existence and keep our private rights to choose animals of any non-domestic species to share our lives with, it appears to have become fashionable to deny the very foundation of private exotic ownership in the United States. That fact is that most of the exotic animals currently held in private homes and small facilities were bred to be and are in fact PETS.
Pets for the purposes of this writing are family members of a non-human species. Animals keep on chains in the backyard or collected, as purely positions to feed our egos are not pets. In order to deflect the ire of the animal rights groups and those who really could careless about sharing their lives with animals many, people are now trying to claim that they are motivated by conservation and are only concerned for the survival of a given species and “not pet owners”. Never-mind that their animals sleep on the couch come to call to names like Sweetie and Sugar. Many enjoy diets not usually extended to children in poverty-stricken countries. Now this attempt at taking cover under the guise of conservation threatens to divide the multi animal owner/breeders from the persons who keeps one or two non-reproductively active exotics. In an attempt to be more politically correct some would claim that by some convoluted justification that their animals are somehow being keep as part of their bid to assist in “conservation.” Now this may in fact be a reasonable assumption of those who retain studbooks and serious concern for genetic viability. When it comes to the average exotic owner the fact is that many exotics are just simply pets. Surely they are also ambassadors for their species and as such do contribute to conservation but none the less Pets. We should not let the forces that oppose our right to keep these animals divide and conquer us.
What is wrong with being a pet and being a pet owner? Now I will grant that in the vein of political correctness I must change the name “pet” to companion animal. Companion animals have a long history with the human race. From the time we came out of the trees and started to share our fire with wolves, the companion animal, i.e. pet dog, has been held in high esteem in most societies. We have over millennia cared for and been cared for by these companions. We have worshiped them and devoted works of art and poetry to them. They have been our steadfast friends in times of trouble, given their lives to protect us, eliminated vermin (another type of exotic pet) when we were unable to control infestation ourselves. They comforted us when nothing else could with a soft eye a gentle nuzzle or purr or just by standing by for us to appreciate the greater world. Until lately being a companion animal was a special place in society. The horse lovers have been pushing for years for their species to enjoy such recognition. Our exotic pets are at heart no different. The fact that as ambassadors and educators on a limited exposure bases they do serve a greater good, but let’s not lie to ourselves or be made hypocrites by our detractors.
The way I see it, the problem is not that we keep companion animals. The problem comes when people apply the “Exotic” word in reference to our pets. Some how it seems that exotics are considered less worthy to be companions. That, by their wild heritage, they can never enjoy the same status as say “a dog.” That’s where I think we, as “exotic” owners need to attack this problem. Not by fighting among our selves about what’s a pet and what’s a genetic reservoir and whether the right to keep an exotic pet is less defensible than being a private conservationist. We need to point out that captive-bred exotics are just another branch of the animal family and that in fact they have always been and continue to be, among other things, pets.
Now everybody who loves animals probably kept a pet hamster, mouse, or gerbil as a pet in childhood. Certainly no one would claim that these animals should be banned as pets. But they are in fact “exotics.” Now made politically correct under the heading “pocket pets” they are no more a domestic animal than the average captive-bred serval. Both have been bred in captivity for multiple generations. Both have been bred to exhibit certain characteristics such as a pliable disposition but they are none the less exotic animals. Guinea pigs are a food animal in South America in some cultures but the ones you give your children as beginner pets sure wouldn’t want to hear that. On the matter of beginner pets, many children start out with the pocket pet previously mentioned or maybe a parakeet and a goldfish. These are not domestic animals. THEY ARE ALL EXOTICS. You see the problem is not that the general public can’t accept that exotics can make good pets. If you point out that the above species are exotic then most would agree that they can in fact be good pets. It’s just the rarity of certain species as pets and the potential for injury that scares to begeebers out of the general public and makes the “exotic pet trade” the target for people who would have us keep no “pets” at all.
We as a group must educate the public to understand that exotic pets are not the wild beastys that feed their imagination or grace Saturday horror movies. That exotic pets are usually born in captivity and to the right owner are as much a companion as your average mutt. In the wrong hands the mutt will bite you too! We should continue to push responsible ownership of all animals, pets, and breeding stock, domestic and exotic. Only when people recognize that all animals can be companions then we will have the unchallenged right to keep exotics. People should understand that not every animal is right for every owner and that not every captive-bred exotic animal is born a killer at heart. It really doesn’t matter what you intend to do with your exotic animals, conservation, education, performing animals or simple pet there will be no rest until the general public can get past the word “exotic”. It comes down to almost a matter of species bigotry. A Labrador Retriever can be every bit as aggressive as a tiger but nobody would propose the banning of Labradors, just that the owners be responsible. Potentially dangerous animals of all species require special care and confinement to protect the general public. Horses kill more people than exotics ever have but nobody is banning them. People just recognize their potential and take appropriate precautions to protect the public. The same should be true of larger and potentially more aggressive exotics. If you have a pet wolf, tiger, lion, bear you should be required to be a responsible owner and protect the public from your pet and your pet from them by providing appropriate confinement. If you are irresponsible like the owners of countless aggressive dogs who attack, injure and kill many people every year in this county then you should be held accountable. It’s not the species that is the problem it is the owners. Dogs are not the subject of ban laws because of irresponsible owners, why are exotics?
The people who would ban our exotic animals really think that all animals are better off left to their own devices. They say how terrible it is to be confined to a cage or someone’s home, that they should live wild and free. Well that’s just great if you where born wild and free but almost all exotics that share space in captivity with humans were born in captivity and know no other life. They are bred from docile stock able to acclimate to living in close proximately to humans. Now if being cared for, fed and housed, not worrying about being eaten or starving to death is bad then I apologize for oppressing my pets. Those who think that captive-bred animals whether domestic or exotic should move back to the wild world should themselves and try to figure out how to survive on twigs and berries or re-learn that uncivilized tradition called “hunter gathering” from which our species sprang.
We as a group need to stop fighting among ourselves. We should stop trying to hide the fact that we, in fact, like animals and wish to spend a significant part of our lives with them. We should not be divided by each individuals special interest in their own animals whether they are “pets”, valuable genetic resources, education animals, performers, or whatever and just be honest as to the role our animals and all animals play in society.
All animals remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. We are not the center of the universe and we are not the only living breathing, feeling thing the almighty put on this planet. We all share this blue marble and the fate of all is vested in each other. We all have a place and a reason to exist. In the case of the lowly pet, no single group has done more to teach people about humanity. To be humane comes directly from people’s experience with not just people but animals. Remember those pesky Humane Societies mission deals with “pets.” It should not be necessary to hide behind some greater purpose that we should be allowed to continue to associate with our exotic companions.
In my opinion there is no greater status an animal can hold than pet, a beloved member of my family to be cared for loved and cherished, to give and be given to and mourned for at their passing.
“PETS” is not a dirty word.