Thanks for raising the issue, Keith! You’re right; there will not be a recurrence of the Zanesville zoo situation, but a ban on the sale of exotics as pets is sorely needed. Unfortunately the Ohio legislation is only designed to regulate the keeping of potentially lethal animals, and to protect the public, not the animals. It should ban the sale of all exotic pets. I am (shh, don’t tell anyone) a fancier of turtles and tortoises. It’s not my fault. I came home from school at age 7 with one of those green dime-store turtles as a prize. My academic-minded parents sent me to the library to research its biological needs. The local library was insufficient, and I was forced to consult the biology department at Princeton University. Since my little turtle, a hatchling Trachemys scripta elegans, got the UVA and UVB light he needed, in addition to an adequate diet (which involved, in the beginning, supplying him with disabled guppies that he could catch for himself (an experience that probably scarred me for life), he grew to be full sized and we released him into the wild several years later.
I can’t tell you how many sick, suffering turtles I have tried to rehab over the years. I was at my desk at the ACLU one day when I got a call from a DFS worker who could not tell me how she found my name. She’d just called everyone and kept getting names that led to other names. She explained that her team went into an inner city apartment, and now the kids were in foster care, dad was in jail, mom was in detox. . . “but there’s this turtle,” she wailed. Okay, I was on the case.
Kids mostly get it, when I explain it to them. Parents don’t! I ask them how they would feel if a family of extra-terrestrials decided to adopt them as a pet. They would be taken to the aliens’ home and kept in an aquarium with an exercise wheel, a water bottle and a fresh supply of cheerios every day. No friends, no family. I tell the parents about the cost of proper lighting and the labor involved with supplying a correct diet. The parents listen vaguely and then say well, the kid wants a pet and we’re too busy to deal with a dog or a cat. I’m not a parent, but I wonder about the moral fitness of a person who thinks a kid benefits from watching a “pet” die of neglect.
Dogs and cats are domesticated. They want to live with us and we can meet all their needs. Exotics will never relate to humans. Taken in as a pet, the best you can hope is to keep the animal alive and maybe eradicate its instinct to fear you. That animal won’t know you or love you back; you will always be his jailer. In most cases, an exotic is brought home to embark upon a course of starvation and disease slowly leading to death. I have the impulse to acquire these animals too, whenever I see pictures of the African pygmy hedgehogs and prairie dogs offered for sale. I pine for a de-scented skunk. But no. It’s just wrong. The earth, including its animals, is not here to serve man; it’s the other way around.