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Responsible pet ownership

Responsible pet ownership is an issue that is very close to my heart for three main reasons. The first is that I am the Associate Curator of Ambassador Animals at Zoo Atlanta, and unlike the other zoological curators here, many of the animals that I oversee can be purchased as pets in your local pet store. The second reason is that I serve as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Chair for Rodents, Insectivores, and Lagomorphs, and many of the those animals under my purview can be purchased as pets. Finally, my father has owned a pet store just outside of Chicago since 1992. I grew up running around that store and later in life wrote the SOPs and website facts for the store. I have had the privilege, and responsibility, of helping families choose their pet over and over again.

The “pet store” animals that live in zoos like Zoo Atlanta have special lives. They get full-time care, training, and enrichment 365 days a year from a team of caretakers who have dedicated their lives to this service. Pet store animals that live in someone’s home should get that same care and dedication. So how can you become the most responsible pet owner you can be? First off, never choose an exotic animal like a tiger or a monkey as a pet. These are wild animals and don’t make good pets for anyone! Once you’ve decided to get a pet that isn’t a dog or a cat, here are five quick tips to get you started in the determining which animal is right for you and your family.

Number 1: Do your research

Are there city ordinances or state laws that prevent you from acquiring the pet you want? For example, in Georgia is it illegal to own any native snakes, including corn snakes, and it is illegal to own hedgehogs.

Number 2: Do your research

Is this pet for a child or an adult? For example, some hamsters are very cranky when awoken during the day and are quick to bite a hand that reaches in to touch them, while guinea pigs are diurnal (awake during the day) and may be happy to receive a pet from small hands. Some animals, like sugar gliders, have sharp nails or bite hard while playing, like ferrets, and may not be suitable for some youngsters to interact with. Some animals don’t like being picked up or held, like many rabbits, while some don’t mind a good cuddle, like most rats. (Yes, I said rats like a good cuddle!)

Number 3: Do your research

Is this an animal you want to have a strong bond with or one you want watch and enjoy? A rabbit might bond with someone very strongly (in fact they may decide to be aggressive toward others) while a snake might not notice if you’re in the room or not.

Number 4: Do your research

How long do you want to care for this animal? Some pets can live 2-3 years like a rat or hamster; a ferret (6-8 years) even longer; a rabbit (6-10 years); or a VERY long time like a bird (25-75 years). In general, the larger the parrot, the longer it lives. Large macaws can live to be in their 70s or 80s, while a parakeet might be around for 15-25 years.

Number 5: Do your research

Is a cat or a dog the right animal for you? If you’re looking for an animal who you can be sure will act like a typical cat or dog, then a cat or dog might be right for you and your family. In fact, if you adopt a cat or dog, there is a good chance that the adoption agency already knows the personality of that cat or dog and can help fit you with one that fits your lifestyle!

Rebecca Young
Associate Curator of Ambassador Animals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl