Ethics re: non-domesticated pets

I’m not talking about cats & dogs, which are domesticated and, dare I say, happy to be with us. But I faced this ethical dilemma when I used to have fish tanks. (Something I absolutely loved doing, but I stopped for reasons not related to this question.)

Is it ethical to keep a wild animal as a pet? When I started keeping saltwater fish, I was faced with the thought that these fish are taken directly from the ocean just a couple weeks before you see them in the stores (often through means that are damaging to the fish and the reef they came from). Wild populations are reduced/weakened. The fish are then confined in small tanks rather than the endless ocean they are used to (some fish don’t seem to mind whereas others seem to continually “pace” back and forth). A good fraction of the captured saltwater fish die from the stress of being captured, transported, and put in a strange tank (therefore, more are captured than are needed). Freshwater fish that are sold have it a little easier in that they are often born in tanks and don’t stress out as easily.

Perhaps keeping wild pets is selfish, but it also can teach a lot about the animal worl (“you cannot save what you do not understand”).

Basically, I came to this conclusion…saltwater fish should not be kept as pets at all unless the owner is dedicated to providing the best possible living conditions (large tank, good simulation of natural habitat, proper feeding, etc.). Keeping freshwater fish is more acceptable, provided they have a decent tank and are obtained from tank-raised stock.

Anyway, I’m curious as to what others here think about this topic…or the keeping of any non-domesticated animal.

(hopefully I’m not anthropomorphizing too much, but I think that animals do have some sense of emotions)

IMHO, no pet should be kept unless given the best possible living conditions. My kids have been clamoring for a dog for years now. I just don’t want the responsibility. Naturally they are saying that I won’t have to do a thing but we all know that is just not how it will work out. Anyway, back on topic. I am not too keen on the idea of people keeping wild animals for pets. For all the reasons you stated and then a couple more. Wild animals, not fish of course, are by nature unpredictable and often dangerous. Did you know that there is a bill in congress right now to stop the use of elephants in circuses? I ran across an article on it yesterday. I have never liked the idea of “wolf dogs” and other such nonsense. But I see so much IMO irresponsibility from the redneck jerk pet owners in the town where I live.


Not to get off my own topic, but in response to your comment, I agree that any pet should be given the proper attention. Dogs require lots of attention, especially as puppies (it’s not good to leave a puppy home alone all day for reasons more than just a messy carpet). Cats are a bit more independent and can handle time alone.

The question you have to ask yourself first is ‘why do I want a pet?’ Companionship? Self-education? Emergency food source? If you want to have fish or reptiles or amphibians as pets, you know that whatever companionship you receive will be mostly in your own head. If you want to have them around because you want to learn about the animal world, that’s a relatively decent justification. In the case of some birds and some mammals, whose natural instinct is to form bonds with their companions, you may receive some form of emotional attachment from your pet, be it a parrot or a racoon. In the long run, though, you have to weigh your true reason for having a pet against the harsh reality that it is nearly impossible to provide the environment that non-domesticated species evolved into. Even if you don’t believe that animals have feelings, you must still realize that any non-domesticated pet has had their horizons severely limited. And for a ‘wild’ animal, that’s just not fair.

This topic is better suited to Great Debates. I’ll move the thread there for you.

Many varieties of freshwater fish, like goldfish, koi, mollies, platies, guppies, angelfish, and zebra danios, are bred in captivity, so you shouldn’t have any crisis of conscience about keeping them.

Also, just wanna point out that those saltwater fish form the basis of a thriving industry. In places like the Philippines and the Caribbean, the Red Sea, and parts of the South Pacific, that’s what the natives do to earn money–collect fish for First World fishkeepers. (The fact that they’re also destroying many of the world’s coral reefs with cyanide is beside the point. [irony] )

But talking about keeping non-domesticated animals as pets–I came in here thinking you were referring to things like wolves, tigers, bears, cougars, etc. I think there ought to be laws flat-out prohibiting keeping those kinds of dangerous animals in the back yard. 95% of the people that have a “pet” cougar or wolf don’t have the faintest idea how to care for it properly, and I have to ask myself how something that needs 100 square miles of territory to roam in, can be happy chained up out behind the garage.

I also reserve some of my deepest scorn both for the people who try to make money by breeding “wolf-dogs”, with a captive “real wolf” and some kind of dog, and for the people who buy them. Need to prop up your ego by owning a “wolf”, a “piece of the real wilderness”? Sorry, I think that’s pathetic.

Yep, that would be an extreme case (which does occur). I mentioned fish because on the surface (no pun intended, well ,maybe a little bit intended) aquariums are considered such a common, benign thing. I agree that those types of wild animals should not be kept as pets at all. Even zoos may be unfair to them - - but at least that has some good educational value (or even helping injured animals, etc.). It’s impossible to fully care for those animals as pets and, when caged like that, they become dangerous to the owners and others. Not to mention, it is a violation of the endangered species act (to remove endangered animals from their habitat).

The trade of exotic pets is truly a disgusting business. In almost all cases, these poor animals are mistreated at every moment of their miserable lives from womb / shell to toilet / back yard grave. I am most familiar with the business of abusing birds and herps from South America that are imported, legally or otherwise, into the United States.

Birds are often shipped in paper sacks aboard airplanes in the luggage compartment and fewer than 30% of them survive the journey. Herps are often treated in much the same way when they are extremely young and delicate.

Once they arrive in the US, they are usually purchased by chain pet stores and are actually warehoused until they are distributed individual stores. This stage, which involves near starvation, inappropriate temperatures, inadequate lighting and claustrophobic conditions that would stand a pretty good chance of killing a human, results in many animals being senselessly lost.

At the retail store, kids and other typical mall employees who have little or no training or experience with caring for the animals are responsible for these animals’ lives. The way they are fed is almost always inappropriate. The food chosen is the cheapest possible and may do irreparable damage to the animals’ delicate and highly specialized digestive system. That’s OK though, because the animals will be dead or sold inside of four weeks.

At the point of sale, these same pet experts will tell their customers, “You should feed this iguana crickets and lettuce” or “If you keep this snake in a small enough enclosure, its size will stay manageable.” Such brilliant advice, which the customers rarely verify, pretty much guarantees that animals like the Green Iguana will survive as a child’s pet for little more than two years when it should live up to thirty years. It will certainly never achieve a greater than manageable size because it will be dead long before it has an opportunity to achieve its majestic dimensions of 30lbs, 5feet of length and 13inch girth.

Pet store workers are ill informed and cannot be blamed. Pet store owners, however, know full well what is going to happen to these animals. It is policy to not explain the size that an animal will grow to achieve because such knowledge would discourage customers from making a purchase. Thus, the new owners are completely unprepared to care for their exotic pet when it grows larger than the family dog. They don’t think to buy it a larger enclosure. They don’t think to increase and regulate its food consumption. In stead, they get tired of the damn thing. Down the toilet it goes. Or maybe it’s tossed out the back door, still alive, while the kids are at school so that the animal can be said to have escaped. I bet you didn’t know that there are actually hundreds of feral iguanas in Florida, did you? That’s not exactly their native environment, and you can bet your ass they’re not happy about it.

I’m getting more and more agitated as I type this. I’d better stop.

By the way, September 9, 2000 is National Iguana Awareness Day.