Pet ownership takes commitment

9/27/2012

According to the calendar, fall has arrived. According to some store shelves, Christmas is right around the corner.

According to the calendar, fall has arrived. According to some store shelves, Christmas is right around the corner.

Christmas is one of those occasions when many people consider giving a pet to someone they care about. This is truly a gift that takes a lot of thought and planning. If you give the wrong tie, it ends up in the back of the closet, in the Goodwill bag or it's "re-gifted." If you give the wrong pet, the ramifications are much more complicated.

The benefits of pet ownership are well documented, but it also comes with many responsibilities. Pet ownership requires a commitment of time, money and heart. So before you give someone a pet, please be sure they want one and are ready to have one in their lives. Once that assessment is made, then the question is what kind of pet. Fish, reptile, amphibian, bird, cat or dog — all could be viable options when selecting a pet. Goldfish fill the role of first pet for many people; it did for my sisters and me. We went through quite a number of goldfish when I was young. There are other options to consider also if you're angling toward fish as your selection. Freshwater or saltwater, solitary or group, simple or complicated? Fish can be beautiful and calming companions.

There are numerous reptiles and amphibians that can make good pets. Food for some of these animals can be a little more involved than opening a bag of kibble. Can everyone involved handle that aspect of pet ownership (feeding out rats, mice, crickets, worms, etc.)? Another aspect to investigate: is there a veterinarian in the area that will help you care for such animals? The veterinarian question also comes into play if you're considering some sort of bird as a pet. While dogs and cats are regular patients for most veterinarians, you may have to look a little harder for one who will deal with more unusual pets.

Another question some birds and reptiles share is long-range planning. Some macaws and tortoises will probably outlive their owners and require a follow-up plan. While this question may not need to be dealt with immediately, it is something to consider. Is the new pet owner you're buying for ready to deal with that type of commitment and long-term issues?

As far as long-term relationships go, consider cats and dogs. Their connection with mankind is ages old. It's even documented in hieroglyphics. A whole industry has developed around making supplies for our feline and canine companions. There's a breed of cat or dog that meets about every descriptor you can think of. Big, small, furry, doesn't shed much, hypoallergenic, loud, cute, cuddly, quiet, easy to train, challenging, white, red, even "blue." You name it and you can probably find a dog or cat to meet the description. But it's not just if the pet fits the needs of the owner; the owner needs to fit the needs of the pet also.

The questions abound when considering pet ownership. How much room is available for the pet? Does the new owner live in an apartment or on a farm with 100 acres? How much time will be devoted to the pet? Does that amount of time meet the needs of the animal you're looking at? Is the pet even legal in the area it will be living in? Be sure to check local and state regulations (apartment leases, too). Laws are changing all the time. If someone may be moving soon, it would be wise to stick with a more traditional type of pet which most states cover with similar regulations.

Needless to say, there are even more pet options than already discussed (pigs, rabbits, millipedes, even tarantulas), but there are also animals that should not be pets. Many people have at one time or another said, "I want a monkey." I don't know if I actually said it as a child, but I know I thought about it once or twice. Trust me, as someone who has worked with primates and other wild animals for more than 25 years, you don't want to go down that road. Monkeys, apes and wild cats (lions, bobcats, mountain lions, etc.) are not meant to live in human households. They are wild animals with behaviors that help them survive in their world — the wild. Sanctuaries are full of animals that someone thought would make a good pet and they just had to have it (or give it to someone). The problem is, after being pulled from proper habitats, social groups, etc., and made, unsuccessfully, to try to fit in with humans, most of these animals don't fit in with their own kind any more either. Some ex-pets can also be found in zoos and for the reason mentioned they require special arrangements and care. Zoos are all about trying to put the animals in as natural a setting and grouping as possible and encouraging natural behaviors. That's not something most people can accomplish in their living room.

I encountered a woman visiting a zoo many years ago. She said she just had to have a "mac-a-q" since she couldn't have children of her own. There are so many ways to fill that void rather than trying to turn a macaque into a human baby, which they most definitely are not. Macaques, by the way, can carry a number of zoonotic diseases (diseases that can pass from animal to human) that you really don't want to be bringing into your house and exposing your family to. Some primates also have the habit of "urine washing" — they urinate on their hands and then wipe it on the "furniture" in their home territory. Have you ever seen a curtain shredded by a normal house cat? Now imagine a lion or mountain lion having at those same curtains. Thinking of de-clawing? What if later you can't keep that lion and you actually manage to get it a new home in a sanctuary. (That's actually highly doubtful since all sanctuaries are basically full.) How's he or she going to defend themselves in their new pride? See, the devil is in the details when you really look into the prospect of housing an exotic pet. There are so many other options out there that can still give a pet owner the challenge or companionship they're looking for. If you really want what's best for that oft-dreamt-of exotic pet, contribute to the conservation of wild spaces or support your local sanctuary or zoo.

Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.

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