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Exotic Pets

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There seems to be a fascination in the minds of many with the idea of owning an exotic pet. All too often, especially with young owners and the well-to-do, the goal of exotic pet ownership seems to be to acquire “bragging rights” or engage in ego stroking. This leads some to purchase dangerous pets such as highly venemous spiders or snakes or large animals such as big cats (tigers, leopards, lynx, bobcats and the like).

Exotic pets can spell disaster if they escape or, when not properly controlled, attack. Unfortunately, the greatest disaster is often experienced by the animal itself, which may be euthanized for what in the wild would be considered its natural behavior or may simply be unable to survive in an environment which is foreign and hostile in comparison to its native habitat.

While some exotic pets present a danger to humans or to other animals, certain exotics can pose significant ecological hazards. A recent example of a possible ecological contamination is the introduction of the northern snakehead fish into the Potomac River in the Eastern U.S. A native of China and Korea, the northern snakehead is considered to be an invasive species and a top-tier predator. Originally kept as aquarium pets, these fish now appear to be firmly established in the Potomac and pose a threat to native species of fish.

Occasionally, exotic pet owners may be unduly penalized by lawmakers due to misunderstanding of the nature of the animal in question. A case in point is the domestic ferret, mustela putorious furo, which appears to be neither a health risk nor an ecological threat but has been banned in numerous municipalities and even some states. Safety and health risk, public nuisance and environmental concerns are the most common reasons for bans on exotic pets.

Apartment owners frequently forbid pets of any kind because they are concerned about property damage, risk to other residents and visitors, and nuisance factors such as urine smell or fleas. This is a real concern when pets are in the hands of irresponsible caretakers, but alternatives such as a higher security deposit to offset potential damage and proof of adequate pet owner liability insurance should be considered on a case-by-case basis in lieu of an outright ban.

Responsible owners or caretakers of exotic animals may acquire and maintain their animals for a variety of reasons which may include business purposes, research and naturalist studies, species preservation, rehabilitation, relocation, and habitat repopulation. While most of these roles preclude consideration of the animals as pets, there are exceptions, such as the bond Siegfried and Roy have established with their famous white tigers.

If you decide to obtain an exotic pet, learn all you can about the specific animal in which you have an interest, including where to best acquire your pet, the animal’s suitability as a pet, its living requirements, lifespan, sociability (interaction with humans, animals with which it may come in contact, and others of its own kind), potential health problems, where you can obtain veterinary care, and laws and ordinances which may govern your ownership of and care for your pet. Please read the excellent article below, written by Pamela Troutman, which details the differences between domestic and domesticated animals. Above all else, aquire your exotic pet for the right reasons — because you have a genuine interest in the animal and are prepared to dedicate yourself to its well-being. Anything less is simply wrong and will result in neglect or abuse of a living creature which deserves better treatment.

Authored by Kenneth L. Anderson.  Original article published 19 August 2006.

DOMESTIC versus DOMESTICATED - There IS a Difference

By Pamela E. Troutman

People owning and selling small animals need to be clear on the local laws and ordinances applied to certain species of animals. To apply these laws better, you need to make certain definitions understandable. One of the most confused terms is the difference between DOMESTIC and DOMESTICATED.

A DOMESTICATED animal is one that has been altered during many generations of specific breeding by man. This has been done to enhance certain qualities that are often put into service by man, hence the reason for their DOMESTICATION. Animals in this grouping are dogs, cats, ferrets and certain breeds of rabbits, like Angoras. A DOMESTIC animal is one bred locally but not where it originated. As an example, hedgehogs are originally from Africa but are DOMESTICALLY bred in the United States for sale in pet shops. Other DOMESTIC animals often sold as pets are flying squirrels, sugar gliders, prairie dogs, opossums, chinchillas, gerbils and hamsters.

Now, to add more to the confusion, a DOMESTICATED animal can be bred DOMESTICALLY, but a DOMESTIC animal is not always a DOMESTICATED species. This is where local ordinances become confusing in trying to keep people from owning animals that are wild or exotic. Each jurisdiction makes their own definitions. Don’t take for granted that what you know as a DOMESTIC pet is legal to own or sell in your area.

Many laws (local and state) prohibit wild animals as pets. Some wild animals can be hand raised to become tame pets. These are often times referred to as Exotics (parrots, marsupials, and rodents to name a few). The United States has closed its door on the importation of most wild animals for the pet trade. These Exotic pets must be bred from existing stock and raised DOMESTICALLY for sales in the States. These animals are not being altered genetically in any form to make them more physically suited for their existence with man. Therefore, they are NOT DOMESTICATED. Pet shop gerbils are the same now (except for the color variations) as they are in their wild state.

Another fallacy that exists in the minds of many animal owners is that their Exotic pets, when no longer wanted, can revert to the wild. This is usually untrue for several reasons. First, DOMESTICALLY raised animals are raised in an artificial environment. They have had no training in survival skills because they were hand raised by people. Second, because they are not released in their native areas, they have little chance of finding the proper foods or shelter to survive. Third, Exotic pets can be bred for color, pattern, or size, and this makes them easy prey for predators because they do not blend in with their environment.

DOMESTICATED animals, because of their close association with people, can revert to a wild or feral state because they can survive on human handouts and habitats. Feral cat populations are usually located close to human habitats, though feral cats shy away from being handled by people. Wild dogs raid human livestock and refuse facilities because these are the things they grew up around. About the only domesticated animals that have not been able to revert to the feral state are ferrets. This is because in the United States they are sold to the public already spayed and neutered. Therefore, ferrets cannot reproduce and form feral colonies. Another good reason to require that all animals sold to the general public be altered first.

Many DOMESTICATED animals are capable of breeding with wild relatives and producing fertile offspring. This results in a Hybrid. Issues revolving around these animals are health and safety related. Will the Hybrid behave consistently as a tame animal or revert to its wild self? [By breeding with a wild relative, you have taken the DOMESTICATION out of the offspring.] Will standard vaccinations approved for DOMESTICATED animals work in Hybrids? It is hard enough to find a veterinarian willing to work with Exotic animals. Are these veterinarians willing to work on Hybrids?

Taking all the above information into account, are pet shops doing their community a service by screening potential animal owners for the right pet or just trying to make the sale? There are plenty of dog, cat, ferret, and rabbit rescues across the country. If you sell these pets, have you talked with the local rescues in your area about whom the best owners are? Can the rescues help you with the questions you should be asking? Have you thought about working with a rescue to place altered, homeless animals instead of selling another fertile animal that may get loose and have an unneeded litter?

For those selling Exotic pets that don’t have a population problem (yet), do you take back the animals if the customer realizes that they are not a proper owner for this species? Do you yourself know how to care properly for this Exotic if it lives in your care for several months instead of it selling quickly? Again, are you screening for husbandry knowledge on the customer’s part? Does the customer live in a zone that allows this sort of Exotic animal?

Not only should you know the animal ordinances in your city, county, and state, you should also be familiar with surrounding cities, counties and states. As a true example of the confusion that can exist, I live in Fairfax County, Virginia. Exotics are prohibited as pets (hedgehogs, prairie dogs, gliders, etc.) but can be sold to residents of other counties by Fairfax County pet shops. Ferrets are legal in Virginia and Maryland as pets to own and sell, but are illegal on all counts in Washington, DC, because they are labeled as wild animals in the District.

Get in contact with PIJAC or your local animal control services to find out what the animals in your care are classified as. If you don’t like the classification, take steps to change it.

Authored by Pamela E. Troutman, founder of Shelters That Adopt and Rescue (STAR*) Ferrets.  Article Copyright Pamela E. Troutman, Used with Permission.

Ten Spider Enterprises provides information and resources that can help you locate and acquire a pet, protect the well-being and health of your pet, and maximize your pet’s quality of life. For information pertaining to exotic pets and domestic pets, our Exotic Pets SiteMap immediately below will help you to quickly locate the resources you seek.


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