Bad pets

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The approach of Christmas shopping season. Wish lists are written, requests made. And for some children, toys aren’t enough. Probably every child makes the request at least once in their childhood: “Can I have a pet?”

Lots of authorities on the subject discourage bringing a new pet into the home at Christmas. New puppies need calm and puppy-proofed surroundings, not shrieking kids, odd hours, candy and junk food dropped on the floor and paper, toys and ribbons in easy reach.

Still, if a person does their homework, makes a purchase from a reputable source – breeders affiliated with national breed clubs or shelters are good starting points – and makes the new pup the priority, I’m not categorically opposed to Fido putting in an appearance beneath the Christmas tree.

Gerbils are an option, hamsters too. Fish can be the start of a fascinating hobby (but don’t be stingy – I think we all know fish shouldn’t live in a bowl-sized tank, no matter what the manufacturers say). Even a bunny or kitten could be a good choice.

Some animals, though, shouldn’t be pets in most homes regardless of the season.

Parrots have the wow factor, I’ll give them that. If you want to really surprise the kids, give them a giant, squawking tropical bird on December 25. But just because pet stores might stock these beautiful, intelligent animals, doesn’t mean they make good pets.

Parrots are smart. Really smart. Some sources estimate parrots are as intelligent as human toddlers ( Only these ‘toddlers’ live many decades, never growing mentally older.

So ask yourself: How would you feel about a two-year old child being kept in a cage for 50 years?

I know, I know, we balk at such comparisons. And they aren’t the exact same thing. But guess what? They’re not different enough to make it OK.

There are circumstances under which owning a parrot is acceptable, but it’s not the lifestyle most of us can provide. Rescue an abused parrot if you really want one. Win the lottery and build a giant facility just for your bird. Or maybe it’s enough just to retire from your job and decide you’ll be as devoted to it as you would to a parent or child who needs around-the-clock care.

There may be other acceptable options. But keeping a parrot in a cage in your living room – even a ‘big’ cage – to impress your friends and entertain the kids isn’t one of them.

When you purchase a parrot, you’re not buying an object, you’re adopting another being.

The other standout ‘bad pet’ hawked by too many pet stores is monitor lizards. They’re cute when they’re eight-inches long, and for two hundred bucks you can buy the lizard plus a modest tank to house it in.

Except your eight-inch lizard will outgrow that tank, and the next one, and the next one. Small monitors are three feet long. Big ones are six, eight, 10-feet long. Your little critter could end up looking like this:

And don’t let the cutesy tone of the article fool you. I love wild animals, too. But you do not want this animal in your living room or your child’s bedroom.

Again, there will be a few people out there who are devoted enough to keep a pet like this properly. But they aren’t buying lizards on a whim as a present. When baby T Rex grows up and becomes scary – maybe after he bites the kids or eats your cat – you’ll have him put down, or drop him in a ditch somewhere. The animal will die because you made a bad decision.

Nothing says Merry Christmas like fear, guilt and death.


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