Most of my columns centre on dogs, some on cats and occasionally we venture into the “other” pets. I had a customer recently comment “Why would anyone want to keep a snake as a pet” not five minutes after someone had just left the store after buying a dozen frozen rats for her snakes, which are housed in some extremely elaborate enclosures in her living room.
So, why do people own snakes, or for that matter, lizards, frogs, hamsters, rabbits, hedgehogs, etc as pets? There are so many reasons, and many people that have these alternatives to dogs and cats also own a dog, a cat or many dogs and cats.
For some, it is a lifestyle choice. They live in an apartment that does not allow dogs or cats, but they still would like the companionship of another living being in the home. Others may not be able to afford the time needed to train, walk and care for a dog. Some may have allergies.
For those that choose a more unique pet, there are many options and a lot of opportunity for interaction with those pets. Some of the interaction consists of caring for the pet’s environment, building them enclosures that incorporate living plants or waterfalls. I’ve seen animals with enclosures the size of a toaster oven, and one with half a basement dedicated to a zoo quality exhibit, complete with heated floor, a filtered pond with waterfall, and a sun replicating basking shelf.
Some of these pets are to observe only, but most are happy to interact with their owners. Bearded Dragons, Rats, Corn Snakes or Ball Pythons can be quite chill, and will relax with you while you watch TV, happy to share your body heat. Yes, I said Rats. It is amazing how many people start with “Eww, a Rat” when their child is picking one out, and end up coming back and buying on for themselves when the child moves out.
Smaller lizards, like Geckos, can be handled but might not just hang with you, but rather be intent on exploring, especially climbing up, usually ending up in your hair, which may or may not be a good idea.
Many of these animals have limited care requirements, allowing the owners to be away for extended periods without the animal needing to be tended to, snakes and some geckos feed on a weekly schedule or longer, and there are many animals that can have their habitat automated for much of the care needed. There are even bioactive systems where you can achieve a limited self-sustaining ecosystem.
Many may not consider fish as pets, but let me tell you, they are very calming and a great hobby for people that cannot have conventional pets. From a simple goldfish tank or pond, to the most elaborate salt water reef tank, the soothing movement and sounds can be amazingly relaxing. When I was a young man, I had a stressful job in sales, and sitting on my couch surrounded by two huge aquariums just melted the stress of the day away.
Alternative pets may not be for everyone, but there is a pet out there for pretty much everyone. Matching a lifestyle to a pet has always been a rewarding part of my job,