Buying Pets

I work in a pet store. Not the most glamorous job on the planet. And it's one that drives me ballistic from time to time. The animals are not the problem.

Customers are the problem.

People, I don't care how your ill-mannered rug rat whines for a hamster. I don't care that you promised your snotty little son a lizard for his birthday and by damn you're gonna get him one. I don't care that your mother wants a parakeet and even though you hate birds, you're gritting your teeth and with extreme ill-grace are buying her one.

Okay, maybe none of these reasons quite covers your situation. Maybe you sincerely want a pet for yourself or someone else. Take a few minutes to find out what you're getting into. Live animals are not a good impulse buy.

I'm not going to get into the ethics of purchasing a living being whose very life will depend on your care. Just some of the mechanics of buying a pet.

Find out about the type of animal you're considering. For example, did you know hamsters are solitary in nature, and extremely defensive of their territory? That they can chew through metal like it's a wedge of brie? That they have teeth, and they're not afraid to use them on you?

If you do nothing else, glance through a book at the pet store before making your decision on any animal. And if that particular pet store doesn't have any books, run like hell! Talk to the pet store staff. If they can't find time to discuss the animal in question, or they seem evasive regarding habits and care, head for the door. Any pet store worker who can't or won't explain to a buyer what to expect from their new pet has no business working with animals. It's understandable if the employee says, "Sorry, I don't know much about rodents." But that employee should follow up with, "I'll get someone who does. Hang on a second."

Take time to examine the animals in the cage carefully. Some things to look for:

Once you've checked out the possible candidates for Your New Bestest Buddy, ask a few questions. I'm not going to tell you "There's no such thing as a stupid question," because we all know what a lie that is! Try a few of these:

I'm sure you can think of other questions on your own. Maybe some things your preliminary research didn't cover, or explained in such vague terms you were left confused rather than enlightened. Yeah, concepts like "femoral pores" sometimes don't make a lot of sense until you see them.

Okay, you've gotten this far. You know perfectly well that a two-year-old child is not the best pet for a hamster (or vice-versa). You've taken a look at the available specimens. Next, you need to handle them. Sure, an animal's behavior will change when you get it out of the store. But probably not that much! If it bites you in the store, it will probably bite you at home. And if the employee shows reluctance (or in the case of Nile monitors, extreme reluctance!) about handling the animal, it's probably not the precise one for you. Being squeamish about snakes is one thing. Being unable to handle one, or making a terrified face, or passing out cold on the floor, is quite another. Especially if other employees sidle away when they see someone heading toward that particular cage....

Basically, all I'm asking is that you exercise a little common sense. An informed consumer is a rarity in a pet store, although we seem to take them for granted in any other type of retail market.

Off the Soapbox, at least on this particular topic. For now.

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Last updated: 4 January 2001. Copyright 1999-2009.