"Lo, though nature red in tooth and claw..."

-Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1850

Exotic Cats as Pets - Bad Idea

Posted by MaryEllen On 7:43 PM

We’ve all felt the urge. Even if we deny it, there have been times when we’ve looked at the incredibly cute tiger or lion cub and thought “Ooh, I want that!” For most people, it’s a passing thought, not a serious consideration. But imagine if you were leaving the mall and someone in the parking lot offered you an adorable lion cub, for less than the cost of a purebred dog. Would you do it? What if you were at a swap meet and someone was offering tiny serval cubs for sale? “They don’t get much bigger than a regular cat”, the salesman urges. He puts the incredibly cute bundle with the absurdly large ears into your hands. He assures you that the kitten was born in captivity, not stolen from the wild. Maybe you convince yourself that you are ‘rescuing’ the baby. Maybe you say to yourself “If I hand-raise it and love it, everything will be fine.” Or maybe you don’t think at all, you just hand over your money and take the baby home.

A few months later. Your pet is three times the size of a housecat, and you have discovered that servals are capable of leaping eight feet into the air, straight up. Your wallpaper is shredded from ceiling to floor. Your furniture is in tatters. Your whole house smells of cat urine from the incessant scent marking. You’re covered with scratches, and you can’t invite people over because your ‘pet’ attacks strangers. You have her declawed, but she starts using her teeth to attack and destroy, and the scent marking gets worse than ever. So you build a cage for her in the yard, telling yourself that she’ll be much happier out there. For a little while, you go outside frequently to visit her, and sometimes she rewards you by purring and rubbing up against your hand. But then you start to visit less; it’s hard to find the time. She starts attacking you when you go in the cage to feed her, so you start opening the door and tossing her food inside. Sometimes people still come over to see your exotic pet and you love showing her off, but warn people to keep their fingers away from the cage. But one day a small child forgets, and sticks his fingers through the bars to pat the big kitty. And just like that, in the flash of a single second, your pet bites the finger off.

Animal Control arrives, and takes your pet away. Maybe you are secretly relieved. You convince yourself that your pet is going off to a sanctuary or a rescue where kind and loving people will take care of her for the rest of her life. She’ll be better off, you think.

Back at animal control, the vet shakes his head sadly and wonders why people never learn that wild animals are not pets, no matter if you hand-raise them and love them. He raises the dart gun and shoots your pet with a tranquilizer dart. After a few moments, she is fast asleep. The vet approaches and studies her mangled feet, and pats her soft fur. Then he carefully gives her another injection. A few minutes later, she stops breathing. Another few minutes after that, a maintenance worker throws the body in the trash, to be incinerated later.

You can say it’s not your fault. You didn’t know. Your intentions were good. You raised your pet with love and care. The person selling the servals talked you into it. It’s his fault. He shouldn’t be allowed to do that. And you’re right, he shouldn’t. But completing a sale takes two people, a seller and a buyer.

So what now? Now, you have an obligation. To try to pull something positive from tragedy. To support laws that ban the trade in exotic pets. To tell anyone you know who is considering getting an exotic pet not to do it.

There are plenty of dogs and cats who desperately need homes, and they can be just as fascinating and loving and intelligent as any other animal. Look at it this way: you can buy a wild animal as a pet and condemn it to a life in a cage, or you can adopt a pet and free an animal from a life in a cage. What’ll it be?

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