Friday, December 19, 2014

Dippy Exotic Pet Rant of the Day: The ASPCA

Being an avid fan of the ‘Animal Precinct’ show presented on Animal Planet, I always thought the ASPCA (American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), based in New York City, were the good guys, but lo and behold, cognitive bias and ignorance knows no bounds when it come to corrupting the minds of people with reasonable intelligence and making them say misleading to downright disturbingly stupid statements.
The ASPCA’s statement about exotic pets has always shocked me, but I’m just now finally addressing their embarrassing lack of thought when it comes to this high Google-ranking page of theirs. The opening statement gives you everything you need to know about the anti-logic of the author.

“Exotic Animals as Pets”
“Would you keep a cat in a fish bowl? Or a hamster in a horse stable? Would you feed rabbit chow to your dog, or try to train a snake to sit? Yes, these are silly—even dangerous—things to do. Unfortunately, people do something similar when they keep exotic animals as pets.”


Where to begin? What exactly is dangerous about any of those things!? Keeping a cat in a fish bowl is cruel, not dangerous. Keeping a hamster in a horse stable is stupid, not dangerous (you’ll lose that hamster). Feeding rabbit chow to a dog is also stupid, as it will lead to malnutrition if fed that in the long term, but it certainly isn’t ‘dangerous’. Training a snake to sit? Go ahead and try, they can’t really sit given they have no legs. But that’s NOT dangerous.

What was the writer thinking when they wrote this? Keeping exotic pets involves properly caring for that animal, just as keeping cats and dogs involves properly caring for those animals. You feed the animals’ appropriate nutrition based on their species-specific needs. If anything, this inane attempt to criticize exotic pets further validates that all animals, exotic or otherwise, just need the right care, and are not different from dogs and cats. Private owners are fully capable of providing the same care that zoos do.

That’s enough to make any logical person’s head spin, but there’s more. Too much more than can be addressed with one post.

“Honey bears, sugar gliders, corn snakes, green iguanas, black panthers, rosy boas, flying squirrels, bearded dragons, veiled chameleons, spotted pythons, leopard geckos, even poison dart frogs and pot-bellied pigs—these are just some of the exotic animals people sell as pets. It may be easy to buy an exotic animal, but it is not a good idea. It is bad for the animals, bad for us and bad for the environment.”

The ignorance in this sentence is astounding. First, according to this statement, the ASPCA is against all animals that can be considered ‘exotic’, not just lions and bears, but corn snakes, leopard geckos, and bearded dragons. These reptiles are, hands down, the easiest pets a person can own. They literally thrive in captivity as long as the owner has half a brain. Pot-bellied pigs are fully domesticated, so if they are exotic, so are dogs and cats (having originated from Europe and Africa). 

The word ‘black panther’ is like saying ‘black melanistic bear’; the term panther automatically denotes ‘black’ because it’s not an actual species. The foolish author is clearly unaware of basic animal knowledge (a reoccurring theme in this series) yet they’ve taken it upon themselves to declare to knowledgeable pet keepers that what they’re doing is wrong for no valid reason. They are clearly against keeping ‘weird’ animals due to simple-minded prejudice.

“And although it may be borderline legal to sell some of these animals, in many places it is illegal to buy them.”

Yes, thanks to simple-minded people like the author, this is true.

“Experts believe that it took at least five thousand years, and perhaps longer than ten thousand years, for wolves to evolve into dogs. So, there are thousands of years of difference between a wild and a domestic animal. Domesticated animals like dogs and cats don't do well without people, and wild and exotic animals don't do well with people.”

I am beyond tired of this ridiculous fallacy. Domesticated animals are not different from other animals, period. Any person with half a brain would realize that many cats and some dogs CAN do well without people and do. Cats do so well they are a prominent invasive species in a large number of countries including the U.S. ‘Wild horses’ are actually feral descendants of introduced domesticated horses. Some domesticated swine has escaped and become re-established in the environment. When I was living in a temporary house, in the backyard was a retention pond filled with thousands of goldfish, to the point that sections of the water appeared orange. These animal populations are flourishing without humans. In fact, humans are trying to rid the environment of them. To say that they don’t do well without humans is an easily refutable lie or display of the most profound cognitive bias and ignorance. With this, nothing the author says can be taken seriously.  But I will continue on anyway.

“In addition, the little we do know of the needs of exotic animals shows us that we simply cannot meet these needs in captivity. Many monkeys, birds, and wild cats, for example, all can travel several miles in a single day. A walk on a leash through the park won't cut it. Since the vast majority of people who keep exotic animals cannot meet their needs, the animals may be caged, chained, or even beaten into submission. Sometimes, people will have an animal's teeth or claws removed, so that the animal cannot harm the owner even when he does struggle.”

I’ve already established that the author is ignorant; therefore they are foolish to attempt to make claims concocted from their extremely unreasonable lack of knowledge. They are generalizing numerous species—some flourish in captivity, and a few may not. The amount of miles they travel in the wild is useless information. Hamsters actually travel miles in the wild (and they’re actually not domesticated) but the ASPCA is not against keeping them since they are traditional pets. Just like with hamsters, dogs, and cats, there will always be situations of bad owners acquiring exotic pets and giving them poor care.

“Malnutrition, stress, trauma, and behavioral disorders are common in exotics kept as pets.”

True or not, this claim is mere speculation, and once again, it is useless to say when the definition of ‘exotic pet’ is every single species not falling under the ‘traditional’ label. ‘Behavioral disorders’ in animals are typically undesirable but perfectly normal animal behavior. This is why owners of dogs and cats are confused when their pets have these ‘problems’, since they are all under the misguided belief that ‘domesticated’ animals have the ‘wildness bred out of them’.

“Here is a partial list of diseases with which exotic animals can infect humans: chlamydia, giardia, hepatitis A, rabies, ringworm, tuberculosis, measles, monkey pox, marburg virus, molloscum contagiosum, dermatophytosis, candidiasis, streptothricosis, yaba virus, campylobacteriosis, klebsiella and amebiasis; as well as infections from various nematodes, cestodes and arthropods. Although some of these diseases are not life-threatening, some are very serious, even fatal.”

The article goes on to rant about the ‘many diseases’ exotic pets can have, and I won’t quote everything. What’s missing from this information, aside from how often humans actually acquire these diseases from their exotics, is a scary list about the diseases dogs and cats can carry, and yes, they exist. This is the reason pet dogs are banned from food establishments in New York. Salmonella, while less of a threat, also can be present in dogs, as well as eggs and poultry. Pets are not the only sources of disease.

“If the bugs don't hurt us, the bites will. Exotic animals, by definition, are not domesticated. Exotic animals are unpredictable. Their behavior may change with seasons or life cycles in ways we don't understand. They rarely bond with their owners.”

Half-truths and lies. The ignorant author is once against accessing their zero knowledge about animals and the pet trade and simply assuming ‘exotic pets rarely bond with their owners’ based on the fact that they don’t have neotenic, social tendencies like domesticated dogs (and some even do). And if domesticated animals were so predictable, we wouldn’t see any fatal and near-fatal attacks from them. Or any of these so-called ‘behavioral problems’.

“To meet the demands of those who keep exotic animals as pets, dealers often have to take the animals from their native lands. This disrupts the ecosystems from which they are stolen, and can disrupt the ecosystems to which they are taken if they escape or are set loose.”

Most exotic pets are not taken from the wild to supply Americans, with the exception of the fish and coral trade, and birds to some extent, although this is fully illegal. You can find isolated examples of people smuggling animals of many different species, but that tells us little about the actual percentage of legal or illegally caught wild animals being brought into the country. Animals such as those listed by this intellectually-compromised article breed quite well in captivity, and responsible breeders abound. Aside from exceptional circumstances with a few species, there is little incentive for hunters to remove wild animals for sale in the U.S. Most are sold in their native country.

“Even the most well-meaning person can become frustrated after trying to meet to high demands and special needs of a "pet" monkey for 30 years.”

Monkeys are an extreme example of an exotic pet. The author, who originally spoke of animals such as corn snakes and flying squirrels, needs to name one of the most challenging exotics a person can get to make their generalizing, erroneous point. Most exotics do not have ‘impossible to meet needs’.  Many can be re-homed without incident, especially reptiles. Sometimes, ignorant laws induced from ignorant fear such as what is presented in this article make re-homing ‘higher maintenance’ mammalian exotics difficult, and sanctuaries that take them and complain about their lack of space will not adopt them out to the public, regardless of their qualifications.

“In the face of so few options, some people will set the animal loose—which is dangerous and illegal.”

A mostly true statement (except maybe the ‘danger’ with anything other than large, carnivorous species), however this is the case with all animals, again. Except maybe the legality part. It is not illegal to allow cats, a known invasive species, to roam outdoors, because they enjoy the luxury of being ‘traditional pets’.

“Unfortunately, the government is often only able to do too little, too late, as dealers and disreputable pet stores adapt to avoid the law. For example, in the early 1970s, the FDA banned the distribution and sale of baby red-eared slider turtles after a quarter of a million children were diagnosed with salmonella contracted from turtles. However, the sale of turtles with shells larger than four inches was not outlawed, and it is still easy to buy baby turtles illegally.”
The FDA claims this ban was successful in lowering the contraction rates of salmonella, so this is hardly an example of a ‘failed law’. This regulation was necessary; baby red eared sliders were being distributed like tootsie rolls in trick or treat bags to the ignorant public. I welcome responsible regulations once a problem has been pinpointed, not bans initiated from prejudice and fear mongering from people like the confused author of this passage and those who approved it to represent the ASPCA’s stance. The baby turtle ban is an example of that law. 


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