What to Say to People Who Are Against Exotic Pet Ownership
Introduction: Using Simple Logic
The topic of pets is often an emotional subject for both parties involved. In my experience, when people express disdain and hatred of another person's pet interest, they don't realize the damage they are doing. Most exotic pet owners are as equally committed, emotionally invested, and devoted in the care of their animals as the majority of dog and cat owners. As with any group of people, exceptions exist. Even if a person doesn't agree with the pet keeping practices of another, it pays to approach the matter humanistically. Ignorance and arrogance is often a reason why exotic pet detractors are often confounded that the exotic pet keeper's reaction to such criticism is less than positive.
Please be advised that this article does not advocate or suggest that any person should pursue adopting any animal that they cannot properly care for, but it does reject the idea that an animal cannot be cared for and be content in captivity simply because it isn't domesticated. This hub does not suggest that people take animals out of the wild, nor does it deny that there are conflicts with the existence of the trade. The answers provided here are also not comprehensive.
I also don't wish to mindlessly parrot out the information from the biases of either side of this controversy. I'm probably more adamant than any anti-pet person on getting animals away from bad owners, both domesticated and not. I hope this user friendly passage will prompt people to think more deeply about this non-black and white subject and to actually assess the facts. The person who said “the truth will set you free” wasn’t puffing smoke.
I have assorted the statements that are frequently brought up by groups with anti-exotic pet and anti-captive animal sentiment into categories based on their level of intelligence and objective awareness. While naming the first set of assertions “stupid” might sound harsh, the fact is, there is such a thing as a stupid question, and I can't stand it when people state their emotional feelings as fact.
When people refuse to think, they are not allowing their minds to expand beyond their comfort zone, which is potentially damaging. In this case, such harm comes to animal-related business, efforts involved with captivity to help animals, and individuals who enjoy working with animals and find meaning in their lives with 'alternative' pet-keeping, with their need to do it not unlike the need of dog owners to live with their pet of choice. Exotic pet owners comprise a far smaller portion of the animal caring public, and unfortunately, the minds of the majority are malleable toward the ideas of groups with the most power and influence. This article is my feeble attempt to counteract it.
- Is Keeping Dogs as Pets Wrong?
"There are many valid reasons why the domestication of wolves is detrimental for their psychological-well being and our society. Promoting dogs as pets is a selfish act and should be phased out. The evidence speaks for itself."
The common, stupid arguments
Claim: Wild animals are not pets!!
Reply: Domesticated dogs and cats are not pets!! See? I can do that too, and it makes about the same amount of sense. Human beings have been keeping pets for almost the entire duration of their existence, hence the existence of many domesticated animals today. Such tamer animals make great pets for more people, yet this does not mean that so-called ‘wild’ animals can't be effectively cared for by the right people. I’m not sure why people have appointed themselves rulers of the universe and feel they get to declare that a group of animals, due to their lack of tameness to the extent of another, can no longer be considered a ‘pet’ even if it is being appropriately cared for. A pet is any animal you are in charge of and care for, it does not mean that you treat a tiger, fish, or snake like a pet dog. Exotic pet keeping requires 'animal sense', and adaptability (on the owners part, not the animal). If you don’t want one, don’t get one. I however, am not your clone and should be free to pursue my life's interests.
Benefits of Allowing 'Exotic' Pet Ownership (and zoos)
- Qualified keepers can care for zoo 'surplus' animals
- Enriching for responsible owners who want to care for these animals.
- Support of small businesses (pet sitting, school visitations, ect.)
- Education/enhancing our understanding of the animals
- Much of our learned successful techniques for captive animal rearing comes from private owners.
- Our country's values indicate that we should enjoy the same freedoms and respect as other pet owners.
Is dog ownership immoral due to bad owners?
Claim: Wild animals only belong in the wild!! (several variations)
Reply: Everything once 'belonged' somewhere in nature, including ourselves, until humans changed it.
If keeping a so-called ‘wild’ pet is some absurd aberration of nature, I can only imagine what an atrocity modern homes, computers, cars, modified food, and intentionally-bred-to-look-like-freaks-domesticated dogs must be. This isn't inherently wrong or unethical. What really matters is if the animal can lead a reasonable existence in captivity. And many surely do as long as they are provided the 5 freedoms.
Keeping an exotic pet is cruel and the animal will suffer.
Incidents of animal cruelty involving exotics are nearly identical toward those with domesticated animals, with poorly cared for exotics being found in places of a low socioeconomic status.
There's enough domesticated pet cruelty to keep multiple Animal Planet series running, while Fatal Attractions struggles to search for more stories after 2 seasons. It is incredibly unreasonable to hold exotic pet owners to a higher standard than domesticated animal owners and expect there to be zero rates of cruel situations.
Many people decide for themselves that an wild animal must be suffering in captivity because of their own romanticized view of how animals should spend their lives. Luckily, animals do not adopt the positions of humans most of the time. Animals want to be fed, engage in whatever activities are relevant to their species, and have shelter away from the elements. With most animal species in captivity, this can and is being accomplished. Save such criticism for people who aren't providing this, with feasible evidence that is not ideological driven.
Claim: Keeping an animal in a cage is degrading to that animal
Reply: And I'm sure horses with humans on their backs, essentially using them as a transportation device, and leashed dogs who are inhibited from carrying out their natural behaviors of sniffing what they want and yelling at their comrades, feel a ton of pride. Anthropomorphism is not a logical or valid reason to object to animals in captivity. Logic strongly supports that these animals do not subscribe to this sentiment.
Claim: Nobody needs an exotic pet. Just get a dog.
Reply: We teach our children to respect each others' differences and desires, yet people feel as though their personal sentiment should literally dictate the lives of others despite no logical justification.
Certainly no one technically needs a pet of any kind, but they are enriching to people for their own personal reasons. Dog owners should not be told to just get cats because cats never attack anyone, and I don't think cats should be banned just because a lot of irresponsible people allow them to roam outside and impact other people's property (while preying on wildlife). As I can personally attest to, owners of 'alternative' pets feel just as strongly about their pets as owners of cats, dogs, and freshwater fish do. Sometimes more.
Typical arguements spread by special interest groups
Claim: There are over 5,000 tigers in captivity in the U.S. -- that's more than the number of wild tigers around the world.
Reply: This would not be true if tigers weren't extremely endangered.
There used to be over 100,000 tigers living free in the wild, and now only a mere fraction of this amount remains. That’s pretty startling, and is more reason why captive breeding programs for the animals must be established by credible zoos and professionals. It’s a good thing that tigers readily breed in captivity. It is likely that in about 30 years, a zoo housing ONE tiger will have more tigers than in the wild.
The amount of 'pet' tigers is also often radically exaggerated. Most captive tigers live in 'zoos', 'sanctuaries' and other so-called educational facilities, but they are not private pets as many groups would lead you to believe.
Claim: Exotic pets are taken from the wild
Most exotic animals in the U.S. are captive-bred (marine fish and reptiles are an exception), especially when referring to exotic mammals.
Such practices are largely illegal. Breeders may import wild-caught animals once in a blue moon to improve the gene pool of captive populations, which is fine for people with experience as it is for zoos and is sustainable. Obviously, smuggling animals into the country illegally is not a practice anyone supports and this is exactly why it is, and should remain illegal. If there ever is an issue with illegal smuggling of wildlife and wildlife parts into the U.S., it is an easy matter to address. Laws should be mandated to prevent that, not the implementation of bans for everyone.
Claim: Non-native exotic pets will end up in the wild and cause detrimental damage to the environment.
Reply: Outside of a such restricted climates in the U.S., exotic, non-domesticated mammals becoming invasive is not happening.
Dogs and cats have feral populations in most climates, while pet reptiles can only live in restricted climates. Cats in particular are some of the most critically damaging invasive species in the country, yet people still allow pet cats to roam outside and prey on wildlife.
Much human activity, including the keeping of domesticated pets, has had detrimental damage toward the environment. Exotic pets are singled out since they are less popular, and therefore to people who do not wish to keep exotic pets and therefore see no reason for it to occur, they are the most objectionable. Being in the minority shouldn't make anyone's needs less worthy of being considered.
Claim: Keeping Exotic Pets Endangers the Public
Reply: The statistics show that exotic mammals rarely, if ever, kill or attack members of the public while dogs accomplish this routinely every year.
Part of being responsible for the care of a 'dangerous' exotic (as many exotic animals certainly are not so) is having higher standards than typical pet owners (and laws can be implemented to keep away bad owners just as they should be for domesticated animals). The sheer amount of domesticated pets, and the fact that such owners will let their guard down since their pets are accepted and not in much danger of being banned, makes the chances of getting mauled or killed by them extravagantly higher. It defies logic to fear harm from one threat while ignoring and accepting another threat that is the most likely to effect you. Simply put, prejudice is responsible for the fear of what is unlikely to happen, as people are willing to accept the higher risks of dog attacks but not the 'lottery' chance of being attacked by another type of animal. Bad luck cannot be banned and is a part of life.
Claim: Captive tigers are cruelly kept in people's backyards
Reply: Some people keep horses in their "backyards"...not all backyards are small like the average suburbanite. Surprisingly, some people own a lot of land.
Claim: The exotic pet trade is a billion dollar industry
Reply: 'Exotic animals' consist of everything from hamsters, ferrets, tarantulas, tropical fish, sugar gliders, peacocks, parrots, snakes, gerbils, lizards, fennec foxes, and of course, a tiny percentage of large animals that may include big cats.
So indeed, this covers a wide range of hobbies and is a large, profitable industry when lumped together to mislead people into thinking everyone and their mother has or knows something with a pet tiger while evil animal dealers count their profits. One source states that there are 139 million freshwater fish and 9 million saltwater fish in households in the United States, alone. Most of these animals are considered exotic pets and are factored into this economical estimate.
Claim: Exotic pets spread diseases
Reply: Animals, including humans especially, all spread diseases, period.
Of course exotic pets can spread disease. A common practice of arguing this point is lumping all exotic animals together and attributing their combined disease threats (both severe and mild) as a whole to make them sound like a massive pathogenic crisis. Interestingly, most of the occurrences of exotic pet zoonosis come from animals that are small and more acceptable in society such as birds, small mammals and small reptiles, but of course, special interest groups will make it seem like a pet wallaby or serval is responsible for or capable of the disease transmission of a Gambian pouched rat.
Many people who are concerned about diseases from an alternative pet are unaware of the disease threats of everyday living and do not practice recommended hygienic practices. If you are truly concerned about disease, beware hotel remotes, menus at restaurants, animal-based foods, and making physical contact with other people. In fact, do you wash your hands after petting domesticated animals? You probably do, which begs the question, why, once again, are captive-bred exotic animals being singled out? It is not justifiable to determine for others which species of animals they are allowed to keep based on their popularity.
Informed, Sensible or Valid Concerns
Claim: Captive exotic animals fuel the international trade for illegal smuggling of animals taken from their natural habitats. Look at the macaw.
Reply: Endangered hookbills are often brought up as an example of how the pet trade affects wild populations, but they are one of the only examples. Most captive exotics do not threaten wild populations in any way, and parrots are in trouble mainly due to human encroachment and destruction of their habitat, which affects successful nesting. The illegal pet trade alone (which is the most prominent outside of the USA) is just icing on the cake toward the issue, and banning these birds as pets alone will not resolve it.
Claim: Are non-domesticated animals happy in captivity? Captive wild animals often exhibit what is called stereotypical behavior, which is repetitive, unnatural behavior with no apparent goal. It appears to indicate that the animal is experiencing stress, depression, or other such psychological imbalances.
Reply: This is indeed a problem with some facilities that house wild carnivores and other intelligent mammals. It's still questionable, however, if such behavior is always the result of mental illness or 'boredom' as it may seem. Many animals exhibit the behavior in anticipation of their feeding time or due to hormonal changes in light of breeding season and are mistakenly believed by the public to be suffering from their confinement. In the situations in which an animal is not having its mental needs met, a husbandry error is the probable cause. Husbandry errors exist for pets of all species, and only those up for the challenge of exotic animal ownership should take on the care of an exotic animal.
No one has the "right" to own an animal they cannot properly care for, period. My position on this subject is solely out of interest for responsible owners, not the irresponsible owners. If I feel that no one is capable of providing for an exotic 'pet' in a private situation, I won't support it. However, there are a few people who have a strong interest in animal care and surround their life around it. They should not be kept from their chosen lifestyle due to the opinions of non-animal orientated people or special interest groups.
Claim: There are not enough people with the proper ability to care for large exotics.
Reply: Laws and regulations should be shaped to encourage that 'exotic pets' like lions, bears, cougars, and other large carnivores are restricted to qualified owners, with penalties for any violations. Such regulations include registering the animal with the state, implementation of an applicable insurance policy, caging specifications, and an overall analysis that the potential owner is knowledgeable and sensible about the animal they are applying for. Somewhat more tepid regulations may be in place for less concerning exotics like servals, other small pets and cat-hybrids, and education should be brought forth for other species.
Claim: Even though there are some good owners, the fact still remains that bad owners will always exist as long as the exotic pet trade is allowed to continue, so contributing to the demand for the pet trade is inevitably supporting cruelty.
Reply: This claim is much less sensible. It is true, but this is also true for the pet trade, period. It is also true for child rearing and existence. Bad things will always happen with anything that we do, but that doesn't mean we should stop well meaning law-abiding people from living in order to avoid it. Banning people from their pets because their pets are less popular than other pets is not ethical or Constitutional.
Claim: Then do we just ignore the suffering of exotic pets in captivity?
Reply: No, you support regulations that discourage bad owners from obtaining species they shouldn't have but do not ban all owners from keeping pets. The same should be done with domesticated pets.
The Major Point
I feel that all animals should be free, end of story!
Alright, but I feel differently, and I also have the information and experience to back up my feelings. I shouldn't have to abide by your values. People do not need to be in love with the idea of zoos or pet keeping, but the major issue here is that people must tolerate the differing opinions of others and not enforce laws based on their emotional and ideological sentiment. One should want to do this so that they in return can enjoy the same respect for their own pursuits. Someone's basic feelings for how someone else should conduct their lives should end at their own property line. If someone's neighbor wants a parrot, and that neighbor is a responsible owner, the law should end there.
Criticizing big cat captivity critics
Feel free to add more questions or raise your concerns. Just remember to think before you address anything, especially if emotion aroused the assertion. Remember that single, isolated incidences of anything are close to useless in providing real reasons why pet owners deserve to lose their animals.