Monday, February 16, 2009

Is it safe to keep exotic animals in your home?

I am an animal lover. I’ve had many animals during my lifetime. They’ve all been pretty standard types of domesticated animals also known as pets. Dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, a couple of turtles and one time I had an ant farm although I’m not sure the ants would be classified as pets. They were just bugs in a glass case. I was fascinated by them though. They were creatures. They were alive. They controlled themselves. That’s always been cool to me.

The most exotic animal I’ve ever claimed as my pet is my turtle Henry. He’s a 20 year old snapping turtle; a Red-eared Slider to be precise. That’s a little exotic but not really. I have, however, known several people that owned truly exotic animals and I did have the opportunity to interact in one way or another with all of them.

One friend of mine had a mountain lion for 14 years. She was beautiful but very frightening. I threw her some food one time (raw meat) over the top of her cage and the noise she made while eating was what got to me. I felt it. It was this low, rumbling growl that shivered across the ground between us. I could see her teeth ripping through the meat like it was butter. There was no resistance at all. Her teeth just slid through the meat. It scared me. I had to go inside.

I remember asking my friend if she was ever scared of her big cat. She said that when she (the cat) was very young they kept her in the house. My friend came home earlier than her husband one day and the cat freaked out on her. My friend said when she came through the door all she saw was claws and teeth and all she heard was the cat growling. She ran for the nearest room (the bathroom) and slammed the door behind her. She was trapped in there for almost 2 hours before her husband came home. The cat continuously paced back and forth in front of the door, stopping to scratch every so often. The growling never stopped.

That was the last time their big cat was in their home. She became a permanent outside resident after that day. I can’t say I blame them. I doubt very seriously I would ever own an animal like that (I’d be too scared), but if I did I’m pretty sure it would be outside.

But then I think what kind of life is that for the animal? Locked in a pen being able to see the world but not explore it would be terrible. They have natural needs and natural instincts. I just don’t think that’s fair to them.

Now this is where I usually get a lot of flack from Tim. He’d say “They’re animals! Why are you worried about being fair? Yes, feed them. Yes, give them some place to get out of the rain and cold. But why worry about fair? They don’t know what fair means.” And he does have a valid point. If they had lived comfortably with everything they needed to survive then where’s the problem? That’s all they know. But I think somewhere deep down they do know they’re missing something. That instinct is always there just waiting for the day it can come out and be free.

I had actually been thinking about my friend and her mountain lion a little earlier this evening. I was watching Wife Swap and one of the families had several animals, one of which was an exotic bird. That’s where this whole thing started. And I had planned on writing a story about that cat and my friend on my Happy At Home blog. I got online just to do that very thing.

Of course I can’t come online without glancing over the headlines on my homepage. It’s impossible for me to not at least peek at them. That’s when I saw the story that brought my thoughts full circle.

The headline read ‘Police in Conn. Shoot chimp after it attacks woman’. I clicked on the link. I have to tell you what I read truly broke my heart.

The chimpanzee was 15 years old and had lived with the family basically as a child. They had trained him to use the toilet. He could dress himself after taking a bath, again by himself. He ate at the table like a person and used a Water Pik to brush his teeth. He was very smart. Smart enough that he had been used in commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola and had even appeared on the Maury Povich Show.

Nobody knows why the chimpanzee suddenly turned angry. A friend of his owner had come to visit and when she stepped out of her car the chimpanzee attacked. She suffered serious facial injuries and lost a large amount of blood.

The owner, desperate to stop the attack, grabbed a large butcher knife and stabbed her pet numerous times. The chimpanzee then ran away and began wandering around the property.

When police arrived they tried to capture the animal. He wasn’t having any part of it and attacked several of the officers causing them to get in their cars for safety. Having been raised riding in cars the chimp opened one of the doors and went after another officer. He shot the animal several times and he ran away again.

Police followed a trail of blood into the owner’s home. The chimpanzee had returned to his area inside the house and died.

I’m not going to try and pretend to be some kind of animal expert but I will tell you what I think. For whatever reason the chimpanzee saw the lady as a threat. His instincts kicked in and he attacked. Animals and humans both have different levels of pain that they can deal with and if they are frightened or angry that level goes up. He probably didn’t feel the stabs. Maybe he even thought he was just being hit. I’m sure he felt threatened by the police. The police were all wound up over a person being attacked (and rightly so) and emotions were running high. Animals can sense that. Dogs always know when I’m scared of them. When he was shot he knew he was going to die. (I don’t know how they know, but I believe animals do know when they are going to die. I’ve had several that disappeared when I thought they were close to their time.) He went back to his safe place to die.

It’s just heartbreaking to me. And it makes the feeling that we shouldn’t keep wild animals as pets grow even stronger in me. I feel so sorry for the lady that was attacked and I pray she recovers soon. And I feel sorry for the owner losing her longtime pet. But I also feel sorry for the chimpanzee that didn’t know he was a wild animal and had to die in such a horrible way.


J Cosmo Newbery said...

Spiders a plenty - do they count as exotic? And, because of the drought, the bush cockroaches wander in occasionally, too.

♥ Kathy said...

LOL Cosmo THAT was funny :D

Smilingsal said...

They say that chimps and monkeys get mean when they go through their sexual maturity. They are inappropriate house pets as are mountain lion!

Gledwood said...

I'm against people keeping dangerous animals at home. I would never go for a monkey either. They're too intelligent coupled with hyperactivity. A parrot maybe I would go for, because they do at least like to sit still when tame. But a monkey let loose on your curtain rings..? No thankyou!
I have 3 (fairly) rare dwarf-dwarf hamsters. They are very cute. (Roborovskis). and ever so tiny. Like little pet gremlins. Aparently in some parts of the world, like Australia, they are illegal as considered potential vermin if escaped!

morrow said...

Such a sad story all around. I love animals so much I feel guilt when I look at them at the zoo. I always try to talk to them silently in my head - hoping they can sense it saying I am sorry they are there.

Sometimes animals just get wierd. I have seen dogs do it for no reason that I can figure out.

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