Many people love animals. Obviously, I love animals; otherwise my decision to work in a zoo would have been a poor choice. The love for animals drives many of us to become the slaves of many furry friends, myself included. This drive to surround ourselves with the creatures we adore can go beyond simple cats and dogs. Very few days go by where I don't hear the phrase: "I'd love to have one as a pet." Personally, I don't discourage people from getting most pets, but I do ask people to think before they buy.

Caring for a pet can be very rewarding; however, it is also a large responsibility. When a person takes in a pet, they are literally putting that animal's life in their hands. This brings me to the three most important things you should do before getting a pet: research, research and, of course, research. Alright, you called me out. That was only one thing, but it is important enough to stress three times. Everything goes back to your own knowledge about the animal. You can't even begin to consider things like correct diet or space requirements until you know what that particular animal needs.

Research doesn't stop with care. It extends to the purchase of the animal as well. Be sure to research where and from whom you are purchasing your pet. A bit of research can reveal the reputable breeders from those that are not so reputable. Research also will help ensure you know exactly what you are purchasing. While many pet shop owners know what they are selling, there are those out there that are simply out to make a buck. The latter will tell you what you want to hear, not what you need know. Some will even tell you incorrect information: "Oh yea! This is a small snake shouldn't get more than three feet long." When, in fact, it turns out to be a python that may reach 25 feet long! Not only will researching where you get your pet save you a lot of potential headache and/or heartache, but you may also be helping with conservation by avoiding purchasing animals taken from the wild. The best places to receive exotic pets are directly from reputable breeders and from exotic animal rescues. This way you know you will be receiving an animal that is not taken from the wild and you can feel confident about what you are getting into.

But how can you identify a reputable breeder? Start asking around, good breeders are reputable due to the reputation that they have earned. Often times your veterinarian will know someone who can point you in the right direction. Find out information on the animal you are looking for before you talk with the breeder. And feel free to quiz them. Also, a good breeder cares for their animals and may quiz you to be sure that you are ready to care for an exotic animal. Feel free to ask professionals, such as us at Lee Richardson Zoo. We would be happy to answer your questions, email us at zoo@garden-city.org or call at 276-1250. Animal care professionals are in the business because we care about animals and we are more than happy to share our knowledge with you.

Research can also help you with medical issues that may arise with an exotic pet. Veterinarians are very good at caring for the more common pets such as cats and dogs, but it is harder to find veterinarians that specialize in exotic animals. To get the proper care for an exotic animal you will have to find a specializing veterinarian; if a specialist cannot be found, you will have to assist your veterinarian in identifying and researching possible medical concerns that would come up with the animal. Researching possible ailments will help you identify health issues early on or even prevent the problems altogether by knowing what the causes are.

There are many animals that end up becoming ill simply because their owners did not know how to properly care for them. For example, I have worked with bearded dragons that suffered from bone diseases because their owners did not realize that they had to have uv-alpha and uv-beta lights in the animal's enclosure. Many reptiles end up with bone diseases because of this issue. Like people, reptiles use sunlight to make vitamin D, which helps with the absorption of calcium. This is not a commonly known fact. Most people don't think of the sun when they think of strong, healthy bones. This scenario with bearded dragons is only one of many examples of how research can improve a pet's health. While research can prevent all of these problems, a lack of research by pet owners usually leads to animals in unsatisfactory situations.

Unfortunately, zoos around the nation are bombarded almost every day with requests to take in pets that people did not fully research before they took them into their homes. While zoos do have the expertise to care for these animals, they are often limited by space, funds and manpower. Zoos also take into consideration the health and well-being of the animals that are already in their care. So if you decide that having an exotic pet is more than you bargained for, but you still want to enjoy these animals, remember the diverse array of animals found here at Lee Richardson Zoo. Of course, if you do choose to accept the responsibility of caring for an exotic pet, remember your three "R's." Research. Research. Research. Then both you and your pet can have a long and enriching experience together.