It's Christmas time and people all over the world are out buying presents for others. Just this morning I received a most disturbing email message from a woman I don't know that prompted to write this short essay with the simple request, noted in the title, namely, "Please don't buy a 'pet', exotic or not, for someone else." Let me say right off that I do not in any way criticize the woman who wrote to me the note because she clearly was in deep despair having received a lovely puppy from someone who thought they were doing her a favor.
To quote from her email message, "A good friend bought me a lovely pet dog for the holidays. It was a lovely gesture, but I don't want a pet right now and can't take care of him. I feel bad because I now have to return the dog to the place where he came from and I'm sure this will be traumatic. Do you have any other suggestions?" The email went on about how sorry this woman really is and asked if I had any suggestions about what to tell her well-meaning friend.
This short and unexpected email raised a number of questions I ponder now and again, and I wrote back a polite note saying that I well understood her regretting to have to return the dog and yes, in some cases it could be a traumatic experience for her new friend. But, because she simply did not ask for a dog for Christmas and was honest enough to know she couldn't give him the proper care and love, it was the right thing to do under the specific circumstances. And, I cautiously offered that she should politely thank her friend and ask them not to buy animals for anyone else in the future.
As I thought about this terrible dilemma some more I remembered an email I received from my friend and animal activist, Los Angeles-based Valerie Belt, and I decided to read it because a few days ago I'd been writing to another friend about the problem with breeding and selling exotic animals. Valerie had sent me a link to an essay titled "Adorable Brand New Primate Species Already Disappearing Via Exotic Pet Shops" that told the story of how a new species of an incredibly cute mammal called a slow loris (named scientifically Nycticebus kayan) discovered in Borneo could become threatened by being sold as a pet.
Coincidentally, in the essay about the new species of slow loris there was a link to an essay titled "5 Reasons Not to Buy a Puppy for Christmas" and I sat back and smiled and immediately sent the link to the woman who had written me about the unexpected dog she came to love but couldn't keep. This short essay is worth the read. Among the reasons discussed by author Joel Boyce are, "Family members should be adopted, not 'bought'”, "You can’t play matchmaker for someone else", and "You can’t make that kind of commitment for someone else". Boyce concludes, "you should probably let someone choose their own time and place to adopt, and knit them a scarf instead." I agree.
Exotic animals as household companions
Let me return to the story of the slow loris mentioned above and make a few comments on the sale and breeding of exotic animals, many of whom are bought by the person who wants to share their home with a non-domesticated and unusual and attention-getting animal. Of course, these unusual animals have unique needs and cannot simply be treated as if they're a dog or a cat. You can read about all of the reasons not to buy exotic animals here.
While many exotic animals are often cute and furry, feathery, or in some cases scaly, and buying them might help the individual him/herself because you might be rescuing them from a small cage in a store and giving them the love they need and deserve and more of a permanent home, there are also problems with buying exotics even if you're buying for yourself.
Buying an exotic animal (just like buying a dog from a pet shop) opens up room for others to fill whether or not the place from which they're bought breeds them on their own. And, of course, breeding exotics merely to sell is also to be frowned upon because this practice brings more individuals into the world who are condemned to a life in captivity and really does little, or most likely nothing, for their wild relatives. Furthermore, buying and/or breeding exotic animals set a bad example of how animals should be treated. They are not commodities or objects like backpacks, bicycles, or couches to be sold willy-nilly.
So, in the future, if you choose to share your home with a companion animal, exotic or not, please rescue them from a shelter and don't support animal breeding mills or other places that produce individuals as if they're mere commodities. And, don't buy animals for someone else.
There are enough wonderful nonhuman animals who are already alive and who are craving a good, safe, and loving home. I'm sure they would be extremely thankful for your taking care of them and giving them the care and love they crave. You, too, will surely benefit from their presence in your home and in your heart.
Note: Christmas is not the only time when people buy animals for others. There are major problems around Easter, for example, when cute bunnies are sold to homes where they are mistreated or later returned to stores or breeders because their "cuteness" wears off (see and).