It’s that time of year again, when people give stuff to other people and expect other stuff in return. Why they just don’t give themselves stuff and be done with it baffles me, but here we are. Then again, Christmas was banned in many countries for over a century because it was so violent. So maybe giving people stuff instead of starting riots is a step in the right direction. Add in the fact that many people will just get drunk, and watch some of the greatest, brain bending, holiday films ever made, and you have a recipe for depression. So, obviously, the best thing you can do is give them something that will make them happy. And nothing’s happier than a ball of fur or scales wrapped in love.
Actually, short of a fatal disease, almost any gift is better than a pet.
But, let’s take a look at some spectacularly bad ideas.
Eric Randall, over at the Atlantic, casts his jaundiced eye on pets inspired by pop culture.
Why we wanted them: Harry Potter and his trusty owl, Hedwig! Sure if you had a wand and magical powers, you could almost certainly devise a more efficient system for mail delivery than a nocturnal bird that poops pellets of rodent bones. But this is fiction, and it seemed romantic, and wouldn’t it be so fun to have your very own?
Why we no longer want them: As it turns out — who saw this coming? — owls are quite high maintenance. “They are quite costly to look after. Ideally you need a 20ft aviary, and that costs about £900,” Pam Toothill, of the Owlcentre in Corwen, North Wales, tells the Daily Mirror. Also they can live for decades! The article tells of owls kept in bedorooms and cages, and eventually released into the wild.
What to get instead: Canaries are often recommended as good beginner birds. They’re colorful! They sing! They don’t get chest infections in the absence of a 20-foot-high aviary! And they die sometime before you do.
Why we wanted them: A Japanese anime cartooncalled Rascal the Raccoon, which aired in 1977, about an American boy befriending a raccoon is apparently responsible for the entire raccoon population of Japan. And who could blame the Japanese? The American boy looked happy with his American pet. Import away!
Why we no longer want them: Do you have to ask? They’re raccoons! The Japan Times reported in 2004: “Owners, fed up with trying to tame the wild species to be cute little critters like the one in the cartoon, dumped them in the wild — where, lacking a natural predator — they have proliferated and are now perceived as pests, occasionally damaging crops and bothering people.” Some, though, protested a Japanese law that allowed local governments to hunt and kill them. “Some people feel certain animals are cute, and because of this, argue that they should be spared,” Kunio Iwatsuki, a professor at University of the Air, told the paper. Will we never learn?
What to get instead: A cat. Or a ferret. Really anything else.
Why we wanted them: Teenage mutant ninja turtles! They’re heroes in a half-shell! The evil Shredder attacks, these Turtle boys don’t cut him no slack! Cool man! The 80s comic book heroes turned early 90s film heroes peaked our interest in actual turtles (and Vanilla Ice.)
Why we no longer want them: The U.S. Geological Survey fact sheet says that adoptions of the red-eared slider peaked “during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle television cartoon craze of the late 1980s-early 1990s.” (Love seeing that on a government fact sheet.) They were subsequently released into the wild by unenthused owners, for indeed, small pet turtles we adopted were neither teenage, nor mutant, nor ninja. You could not feed them pizza, and they would not do battle alongside your pet rat. But much more importantly, they carry salmonella and can give it to your child! Also, they live for decades. There is another Ninja Turtles movie coming out next year, but do not let Michael Bay trick you into giving your child a petri dish of salmonella for Christmas.
What to get instead: This writer had several hermit crabs as a child that were just as boring as a turtle, but without the salmonella, which Petco assures hermit crabs do not carry.
Why we wanted them: Well, if two enterprising Brits could handle 101 of the spotted pups, certainly the rest of us could take on just one. In advance of the live-action adaptation of the Disney film, animal rights activists launched a campaign to warn against adopting them, but, well, everyone was distracted by the cute puppies on screen. They weren’t even cartoons. These were real, live dalmatians! What could go wrong?
Why we no longer want them: Dalmatians have their own problems, too. For instance, people “found out they weren’t animated stuffed animals but living creatures with needs and problems,” the L.A. Times recalls sarcastically. But seriously, The New York Times reported an upsurge in dalmatians abandoned to shelters by their owners, writing, “animal shelters say owners have found the dogs high-strung, willful and aggressive. The dogs also require lots of exercise and in some cases special care because of health problems associated with indiscriminate breeding.” We probably should have seen the indiscriminate breeding coming, what with the 101 dalmatians in the film and all.
What to get instead: The problem here, from the sounds of the New York Times article, is that families weren’t ready for any pet at all: “Disney officials said the problem is one of educating the public about the responsibility of pet ownership and extends beyond Dalmatians. The Humane Society says 8 million to 12 million dogs and cats enter shelters each year.” So, how about you purchase your kids a DVD of the film?
A side note about Dalmatians. They were bred to run long distances. They need to do that. If they can’t do that, and you can’t provide them with a way to do that (yes, a treadmill will work), they will go insane. Big, insane. dogs are a bad thing to have around. Especially if you have kids.
Moving on, here are other animals people keep giving as pets and really shouldn’t.
Alligators and/or Crocodiles
These suckers can grow to be fourteen feet long, are capable of killing a full grown adult, and do not train easily. They also don’t belong in Chicago’s lagoons.
Bats carry rabies and SARS, have sharp teeth, sleep all day, and fly all night. Plus they have a difficult diet to maintain in captivity.
Please stop buying bears. Grizzly Adams has been off the air for decades and the ones in Disney cartoons aren’t realistic. Bears don’t sing and dance, will tower over you when standing on their hind legs, and can knock you over or even kill you with a swift blow from a paw.
Chimpanzees and Other Primates
They can possess shocking levels of strength while lacking reason, chances of effectively controlling them are slim. They also might bite their owners, which is especially scary given that they can transmit diseases, such as hepatitis A and HIV-1.
These relatives of raccoons, from South America, are extremely active and difficult to train. They have 38 to 40 sharp teeth, forage for their food, and require a lot of mental stimulation. Even though many are kept as pets, they are still wild animals that can deliver a pretty nasty bite.
With the exception of the tiny fennec fox (or the domesticated silver/Siberian fox), foxes are not recommended as pets. Red foxes can become very tame but never fully trustworthy. And they will bite if they feel threatened. They also have a musky odor that is far worse than a ferret. Also, most states will destroy a pet fox if a bite is reported because there is no vaccination protocol for the animal.
Iguanas and Lizards
Fun note: Iguanas and lizards pose a very real danger — 90 percent have Salmonella and shed it in their feces. (This is actually true of all reptiles). That said, they require a lot of care, and specialized housing. Oh, and they live a long time. This is not a pet for the timid or the irresponsible.
Kinkajous carry the bacteria Kingella potus. Beyond the health risk for humans, owning a kinkajou is bad for the animal, too. Replicating their rainforest environment can be quite difficult, and their strange surroundings can increase their risk for disease and ruin their quality of life.
Large and/or Venomous Snakes
Venomous snakes can kill you with a single bite, and antivenom can be hard to come by. Some cobras also can cause immense pain and blindness just by spitting their venom into your eyes. Large snakes can grow to be twenty feet long and require specialized care. Either can be a life risk if they get loose (which many do). The python epidemic in Florida, which I covered previously, is entirely due to people releasing pets into the wild.
Actually, these are safe pets, but the harvesting method suppliers use does massive amounts of damage to the ecosystems of Philippines, Indonesia, and elsewhere and provides no real benefit to anyone. Sea horses in captivity will basically grip a plant and not let go. That’s it. Get a goldfish and move on.
Tigers and Other Large Cats
I had a buddy who got a large. black, kitty as a gift. He named it Puss Puss. As it turned out it was a panther. He kept it for a couple of years, moved to build it an enclosure it could roam, and was eventually forced to give it to a zoo. And that zoo gave it to another zoo where they could care for it. That is, pretty much, the story for all big cats in human care.
Quoting Everyday Health: You probably know plenty of people with pet canaries or parakeets, but there are some wild birds that should not be kept caged up in the kitchen. Though the birds may not be dangerous to humans, their trade is proving disastrous to their species’ survival. According to Born Free USA, nearly a third of parrot and cockatoo species around the world are threatened because of declining populations caused by the pet trade and habitat destruction.
Wolves and/or Coyotes
Quoting The Spruce Pets: Wolves and coyotes are not domesticated dogs. They act on their instincts, hunt when they are hungry, play when they want to, and sleep the rest of the day. If they feel threatened, they will attack, and they can kill an animal several times their size. Furthermore, though wolfdogs have some popularity as pets, they are not much different from their pure wolf cousins and also should be avoided.
One caveat here. There are people who do their homework, know what they’re getting, and make sure the animal’s needs are met. This article is not about, or for, them. This is aimed at people who think they’re doing something cool and really aren’t.
Please don’t try and be cool.