Keeping animals primarily or entirely for companionship has a history going back thousands of years. A number of species have proven to make excellent pets and keeping such animals can provide comfort, companionship and a rewarding experience.
Domestic dogs make excellent pets. They’re intelligent, sociable, playful and, thanks to centuries of selective breeding, have an affinity for people and a unique ability to communicate with and understand humans. Dogs form tight bonds to their owners and can be trained to do numerous things for entertainment or practical purposes. They love to please and, if raised properly, will be submissive to their owners.
Cats are another option. They tend to be more independent and demand less attention than dogs. They can be kept indoors and easily trained to use a litter box. Domestic cats also develop bonds with humans and can be affectionate and inquisitive.
Many other animals have proven to be highly successful as domestic pets. Small mammals like gerbils, hamsters and even rats have long been kept as pets. They don’t have the same kind of social interactions of dogs and cats, but may also be less demanding to keep. Many species of birds have also proven to be highly successful pets. Some of the more intelligent species of parrot can be highly demanding to keep, but for those who know what they’re getting into, it can also be a rewarding experience that provides great companionship.
Yet for some reason, which honestly I don’t quite understand, many people insist on keeping animals as pets which are very poorly suited to captivity and in some cases are downright dangerous. It may be a desire to be different or an admiration for the traits that such animals display in the wild. It may be an attraction to the “cuddly” stereotype associated with animals that are not cuddly at all or it may even be a desire for status. Whatever the reason, there are a number of animals which are just not good choices for pets. Yet people keep them anyway, and sometimes pay with their lives. Even when these animals do not kill or injure their owners, the inability of the average person to care for certain animals often leads to the animal either suffering or being discarded.
Burmese Pythons - Quite honestly, I don’t know why anyone would want a snake as a pet, as they don’t exactly seem very personable. However, some people seem to really like snakes, which is fine, as long as they remain a manageable size. Burmese pythons, however, are very prone to growing to sizes beyond what most would consider “manageable.”
Never the less, these snakes have become fairly popular pets and are generally sold at a young age and small size, which can make the difficulties of caring for the full grown snake less obvious. After a few years of normal feeding, they can easily grow to about 12 feet (~4 meters) of length, and occasionally even larger. This sized python is far too large for most homes and can’t be kept in a normal terrarium. Owners who plan to keep such a large snake often need to construct large outdoor cages or devote a small room in their home to the snake.
Unfortunately, all too few are able to do so and due to both the size and appetite of the snake, the pet becomes unwanted. Most animal shelters find it nearly impossible to care for and find homes for such large snakes and zoos and animal parks are not always prone to taking them, as they often have more offers than they have room for. Many owners have therefore just released their enormous snake into wild. Those which are not intentionally released may escape if owners do not have proper accommodations, which all too many lack.
Because of this the Burmese Python has become an invasive species of major concern in a number of tropical and subtropical areas, most notably Florida in the United States. The Burmese Python has taken to the Everglades and in doing so, has begun to compete for top predator with native alligators. In 2005 it made headlines when a photograph of an “exploding snake” was published showing a snake which had attempted to consume an alligator. It also is an acute threat to numerous species of birds and small game.
In addition to the problem of released pythons, the Burmese Python can be dangerous to both owners and those who encounter released snakes. While deaths are rare, they are not unheard of. Proper handling of such snakes requires multiple persons to assure that the snake cannot gain control and wrap itself around the handler. They may be an acute danger to small children.
Few private pet owners are capable of providing the level of containment and care necessary and many are not aware of the dangers.
Wolves – Wolves look a lot like domesticated dogs. They may behave like domesticated dogs, and they do have a lot in common with domesticated dogs. However, they are NOT domesticated dogs. Dogs are the result of many thousands of years of selective breeding to create an animal that is good at interacting with humans, while wolves are wild animals, adapted to living in an environment where toughness is more important than being predictable and trainable.
A wolf never should be treated like a dog, but all too many owners do just the same. Wolves have very strong instincts which include the instinct to attempt to dominate others in the pack, and that includes the owner. They often are very docile and gentle when they are pups, but will develop more aggressive instinct as they grow into adulthood. These tendencies are entirely natural and are impossible to completely suppress, regardless of the amount of training one attempts to use.
It’s possible that some human-raised wolves will turn out to be perfectly friendly and non-aggressive toward people, but the problem is that one just never knows. Wolves are known to be unpredictable and may act out in unexpected ways even after years of uneventful ownership. Wolves also lack some of the unique traits of dogs that make dogs such good pets. Domestication of dogs has produced an animal that is especially attuned to human commands and tendencies. Dogs are good at knowing when people want something and at taking cues from human gestures, but wolves are not and may intemperate them entirely wrongly, even leading to unwanted aggression.
If that’s not enough reason not to get a wolf, it is especially difficult to keep a wolf healthy and well cared for. Wolves do not do well on kibble-type pet food and generally require a special diet consisting of fresh meat and specialized foods, which is complex and expensive. They may require a great deal of exercise, and may become restless if they are not given enough stimulation. They are also social animals and may need to socialize with other wolves. Substituting socializing with dogs is not recommended and can be disastrous!
Wolf-Dogs – If there was ever an example of a creature that simply should not be, this is it. Domestic dogs and wolves are closely related enough that the two can breed to produce a wolf-dog hybrid. This is sometimes the result of irresponsible dog owners, who allow their dogs to “get lucky” with local wolves. More often, it’s the result of intentional breeding of wolves and dogs – which is even more irresponsible.
Wolf-dog hybrids are trapped between worlds. Their exact nature and what traits they inherit from wolves and which from dogs are nearly impossible to determine. Unlike true wolves, wolf-dogs have a very difficult time surviving in the wild and may not be accepted by packs of wolves. Like wolves, however, they are dangerous and unpredictable pets. What makes wolf-dogs so tragic is that it can be impossible to know which ones will manifest dangerous wolf-like tendencies. If a wolf-dog seems docile and friendly, it very well may be, but it also is possible that it will show unexpected aggression.
Wolf-dog hybrids have been involved in a number of severe attacks over the years, some being fatal. One common thread seen in many such attacks is that the animals had been trusted due to a history of gentle non-aggressive behavior only to turn, without warning, and attack humans. Children are often the victims of such attacks.
In 2006, Sandra L. Piovesan of Salem, Pennsylvania was found dead, having been attacked by a group of wolf-dog hybrids she owned. Ms. Piovesan had been breeding hybrids and claimed that the animals gave her “unqualified love.” Authorities had expressed some concern before the incident about the safety of keeping and breeding such animals.
While there have been incidents of owners being attacked and killed by their own domestic dogs, these are exceedingly rare, especially with well socialized dogs which have not displayed extreme aggression in the past and are used to their owners presence. The nature of the attack on Sandra Piovesan is unheard of with domestic dogs. It is believed that she entered the pen where her pack of wolf-dog hybrids were kept and may have been ill or just let her guard down when several of the animals attacked her.
Why Sandra L. Piovesan could not be satisfied with the love and companionship of a Cocker Spaniel, Pomeranian or German Shepherd we will never known. Some friends had stated that she kept wolves and wolf-dogs as a way of staying in touch of her Native American heritage. Whatever the reason, it cost her life.
Alligators and Crocodiles – Alligators and crocodiles are two different, though related, varieties of animal. Both are large reptiles that live primarily in water and are carnivorous. They’re also quite large, with most varieties growing to several hundred pounds. Even the smallest variety of crocodile has an average length of about a meter and a half. They can be quite dangerous to human and each year in the state of Florida alone, over a dozen people are killed by alligators. It should be noted, however, that attacks are usually the result of someone provoking or getting too close to an animal and such attacks are almost unheard of on dry land.
One would generally think that the reputation of alligators and crocodiles would be enough to stop anyone from being dumb enough to consider them a good pet. Such animals are routinely raised on farms and in zoos and animal parks, for spectators or for their meat and hide, but this is a far cry from an average person keeping one in their apartment or suburban home. Their size alone precludes them from being kept indoors in a home and their need for warm temperatures means they can’t be kept outside except in fairly tropical regions.
Despite this, alligators have been sold as pets in places like Florida, generally by unregulated fly-by-night individuals. It’s known that this occurred in years past, although how recently is not known. Generally sold as babies, the alligators were quite small and generally posed no threat to their owners. However, the animal grows quickly, resulting in most purchasers getting second thoughts about whether they want to keep such an animal around. This would lead to the creatures being disposed of by whatever means was convenient, possibly even being flushed down the toilet.
Chances are you’ve heard stories about “sewer alligators” in places like New York City. Such stories, on their surface, seem entirely like the stuff of urban legend. Indeed, there is no thriving colony of alligators in the sewers of New York, but, surprisingly, there have been individual gators found in sewers, storm-drains and bodies of water in New York and other northern cities. In the 1920′s and 1930′s, more than a dozen alligators and crocodiles were found in the New York area, many escaped from private pens and homes, a few appear to have been intentionally disposed of in storm drains and others were never conclusively identified. At least one alligator (apparently an adult) was legitimately found in a New York City sewer, in 1935. It was promptly tracked down and killed by sewer workers. There were scattered reports of alligators sighted in the sewers of New York in the late 1940′s and into the 1960′s, it’s entirely possible some of these were real, but no proof was ever found besides the 1935 incident.
It is unlikely an alligator or crocodile could live very long in a sewer, due to the generally cold temperatures, lack of food, high levels of bacteria, narrow passages and toxic chemicals and gasses present. However, there is no doubt that on occasion, alligators and/or crocodiles have been improperly disposed of or have escaped into urban areas. They don’t belong there and are not worth consideration as an exotic pet.
Despite being illegal in many countries and US states, alligators and crocodiles continue to be kept as pets. In 2007, authorities seized an adult alligator from its owner in New York State. In some jurisdictions it is possible to acquire a permit for keeping such an animal. Despite the fact that such permits are intended primarily for legitimate reptile farms or breeders, some individuals have managed to obtain them in order to keep alligators as pets. Even if it can be done legally, it is an extremely dangerous thing to do.
Chimpanzees - Of all the animals that should absolutely never be kept as a pet but are anyway, this one is probably the worst. The popular image of chimpanzees is that they are playful, funny, social animals that are fun to play and interact with. To some extent this is true, at least when they are in a good mood. However, chimps can also be highly unpredictable and are known for flying into rages unexpectedly. This may be the most dangerous aspect of chimpanzees, because some have been known to be friendly and gentle for years before going into a deadly rage.
Chimps are highly intelligent and can be very human like (indeed they are our closest living relative), but they are not human – they are wild animals whose behavior in the wild often includes savage fighting. When angered, a chimpanzee has an attitude worse than the worst two year old’s temper tantrum you’ll ever see. However, unlike a human two year old, they’re extremely strong. The average adult chimpanzee is stronger than a top-ranked human bodybuilder.
When chimpanzees attack, they are relentless. They go for the face, especially the eyes as well as the hands and the genitals. They don’t just bite – they bite off whatever they can. They are known for gouging out eyes, biting off fingers and mauling groins. Their strength literally allows them to tear humans apart. The injuries and disfigurement from chimpanzee attacks are some of the worst seen in any animal attack.
Their intelligence can also increase danger. Chimpanzees have been known to figure out how to escape enclosures and even to use trickery to escape. In captivity they can quickly become frustrated with the lack of stimulation from their environment or lack of a sexual partner. The demands of keeping a chimpanzee healthy in captivity are enormous and require highly trained specialists and facilities. Yet people insist on keeping them as pets and this has proven disastrous. Many states now ban the ownership of large primates as pets, yet a few are still being kept, in some cases because they may be “grandfathered” if they were acquired before the law was enacted.
There have been two well known chimpanzee attacks in recent years. In 2009, Charla Nash was visiting her friend Sandra Herold in Connecticut when Herold’s pet chimpanzee “Travis” attacked Nash. Travis knew Nash before the incident and had never displayed any violence toward her. It has been theorized that he was upset by Nash’s new hair style or may have been unsettled before the event. Travis severely mauled Nash, nearly killing her and causing debilitating lifelong injuries.
In 2005, Saint James Davis was visiting a chimpanzee, which had previously been his pet, at a primate rescue center in California when two other chimpanzees escaped their cages and attacked Davis. A worker shot the chimpanzees, but not before they had severely mauled Davis. He was lucky to survive the attack, but was so badly injured he was kept in a drug-induced coma for months. His face was completely destroyed, requiring extensive reconstruction, which could not save his nose. He is also incapable of much facial expression. Doctors were able to save one of Davis’ eyes. Davis also lost his genitals in the attack, which were bitten off by one of the chimpanzees. Most of his fingers could not be saved and due to damage inflicted to his leg and foot, Davis is primarily confined to a wheelchair.
Large Apex Predators (Lions, Tigers, Leopards, Pumas, Bears) - It would seem rather obvious that large predatory mammals like bears or large predatory carts are not the type of animals you would want to have as a pet, yet a surprising number have been kept as pets, even on occasion with very minimal protective measures.
These kind of animals can’t be “tamed,” but they can be socialized to humans. When socialized to human contact and presence they will usually tolerate human interactions and will not attack – usually. This does not make them safe to interact with in general, although their apparent gentleness may lead to a false sense of security. Aggressive behavior can still come out if the animal is spooked or thinks it sees an opportunity to establish itself at a more dominant level in the pecking order.
Indeed animals of this size and power do not even need to be aggressive to cause harm. When socialized to humans they may attempt to treat humans as they would their own kind, yet due to their enormous strength and size this can lead to severe injuries to humans even if the animal is only trying to play or even show affection. This seems to be what happened to Roy Horn in 2003 when he was severely injured on stage by a white tiger. Horn believes the tiger was startled and attempted to drag him to safety, as it would a tiger cub. Yet humans do not have thick fur and skin on their neck as tigers do, leading to the injuries.
This incident is not isolated. Just this year a man in Toronto was mauled to death by his pet tiger. A number of children have been killed or severely injured by lions tigers and cougars kept as pets in the US and elsewhere. In 2009, a Pennsylvania woman was killed by her pet black bear. Black bears rarely attack humans in the wild, but apparently she entered the cage with the bear, possibly causing the bear to attempt to defend its territory. A man in Ohio was also recently killed by a pet bear – surprisingly it was not illegal to keep a pet bear in Ohio, although the law may change because of the incident. A lion kept at a “private zoo” in British Columbia Canada killed a woman in 2009, resulting in the owner, her fiancee, being fined $500 for violations of local animal ordinances; several lion cubs were also seized due to the incident.
As with other animals, laws for keeping such pets depend on the jurisdiction. Some are kept illegally and others are kept by obtaining a permit, as laws occasionally allow individuals to obtain permits which are generally intended for zoos or research institutions. A surprising number of US States have little or no restriction on the private ownership of large exotic animals.
Outside the US, the laws are not necessarily much better. In Canada, the issue is dealt with on a Provencal level and enforcement has historically been inconsistent. The woman attacked and killed in 2009 lead to changes in the law in British Columbia. In most of Europe, such animals are not legally permitted as house pets, but one man in Poland managed to keep a lion by registering his home as a circus. In years past, others in the UK have kept lions as pets. At one time it was fashionable to keep large animals on estates, though this practice is now less common.
Many areas of the world have zero enforced regulation on the trade of exotic and potentially dangerous animals, such as Iraq, where lions, crocodiles and bears are all available for the right price. In Russia, a cottage industry has begun to grow of bear breeders who sell the cubs to nearly anyone, no questions asked. A great deal of attention was given to a video circulated on the internet of a man mistreating his pet lion in a residential section of Iran. It is not known how common such animals are as pets in Iran and other middle-eastern countries.
With bears, cougars and other animals that are native to settled areas, many pets are the result of individuals adopting cubs they find in the wild – often orphaned or injured. While this may initially be the result of good intentions, such animals should be reported to the proper authorities, not brought into the home to be nursed back to health.
Animals that can be successfully kept as pets, but are difficult:
There are a number of animals which can make good pets for certain individuals and are successfully kept as companion animals, but which are very demanding and require a great deal of specialized care. No pet should ever be acquired without first doing extensive research on the species. Most people are at least somewhat familiar with dogs and cats and have a general idea what kind of care they require, but more exotic pets may not be as well known.
Some species of monkeys have been successfully kept as pets. They are also occasionally trained to aid the disabled. Monkeys are not necessarily well suited to such roles by their nature, but can be trained to live in a human environment. Training and socializing the monkey can be beyond the capability of non-experts, and those without the proper background often have no idea how to acclimate a monkey to living with humans. Monkeys also require a great deal of social and cognitive stimulation as well as special diets. Their curiosity and dexterity can make the average home a dangerous place for a monkey, unless safety measures are taken to secure electrical outlets and other dangers.
In general, monkeys don’t make nearly as good a pet for most people as one might think. Yes, they can bite. Although a monkey is unlikely to cause severe injuries to a human, their bites can be rather nasty.
Exotic birds also can be successfully kept as pets but introduce their own unique requirements and challenges. Cockatiels are notoriously demanding and without proper socialization and stimulation may become highly agitated. They may bite, scratch and hiss constantly if they do not receive the proper care. Many purchase birds of the parrot family expecting them to be articulate speakers, but in reality not all parrots are adept at emulating human speech and teaching a parrot to do so well can be more difficult than many expect.
This is not to say that unusual or exotic animals are necessarily unfit for keeping as pets, only that anyone who thinks they want one should be sure to research them extensively and make sure they are willing to care for the animal and will be happy with the experience of keeping an exotic pet.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 at 7:48 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, History, Misc. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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