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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

February 26, 2013

Why Do Exotic Pets Get Such a Bad Rap?

By Elizabeth Creith


Exotic-pets bylaws were clearly made by people who fear anything that just doesn't look right—that is, isn't furry, feathery or equipped with gills. Tarantulas, for example, are almost universally banned, in spite of the fact that they're easily habituated to handling and have a bite about as deadly to humans as the average bee-sting. It's their misfortune to have two animals' worth of legs and four animals' worth of eyes. Even being sort of furry doesn't make up for that.

David was working at a pet store in Toronto when an exotic animals bylaw went into effect, and he brought home the sole tarantula in the store to keep her from being seized and killed. At the time we had an arachnophobic housemate. She bravely asked to see the tarantula, and immediately said, “Oh, Mouse-With-Many-Legs!” That tarantula was Mouse for the rest of her life. I felt the name did her a disservice—she was gentler than most of the mice I'd handled.

Tarantulas are gentle creatures and make good pets.
Tarantulas make good pets.
Snakes get a bad rap, too—again, the wrong number of limbs seems to mean you're vicious and nasty until proven otherwise. It really makes me shake my head. I've kept all sorts of critters, and handled them both in the course of business or simply because they were my pets. I have scars to show for it, too. I got them from rabbits.

Yes, rabbits, those sweet, furry, two-eyed, four-legged, cute little fluffballs, are responsible for a set of parallel scars on my right forearm that have endured for twenty years. No snake, lizard, spider, bird, dog or cat has come anywhere near inflicting that kind of damage. 

Behind that doe-eyed face is a brain the size of a walnut, with a hair-trigger switch set to Psycho Bunny. It makes sense when you consider that almost anything the average rabbit encounters is looking to put hassenpfeffer on the menu. The ability to go from placid to paranoid in a nanosecond can be a lifesaver when Mr. Fox happens by.

I picked up Sheba, a rabbit I'd owned for several years, by the approved method of scruff-of-the-neck in one hand, butt-tucked-up-and-supported by the other. I don't know what happened—maybe a leaf blew by the door, maybe a butterfly flapped its wings in China. Whatever it was, Sheba was suddenly 88 flashing claws of death. Rabbits have hind claws like a set of harrows, and the skin of my forearm was fluttering in the breeze.

I got her safely back into her cage and went to have my wounds doctored and get a couple of pints of blood. I knew it wasn't her fault; she was a rabbit, brain the size of a walnut. We all survived.

No exotic-pet bylaw has ever banned rabbits. I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to change. But whenever someone goes on about vicious snakes and nasty spiders and other critters without the right complement of feet, fur and eyes, or gets too syrupy over the cute little bunnies, I roll up my sleeve and show them my scars. Psycho Bunny lives.


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