Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas, Rest, and Due Diligence

There's a halfway decent chance
this Alexandrine will
outlive you.
It's the day before Christmas, and I'm up at half past six getting ready to go to work.

Partly due to the fact that I'm pretty much inoculated against it these days, I'm used to having to work on and around Christmas Day, and I don't really have a problem with it. Whether I'm selling or cooking, this is simply the best time of year to ply my trades, and it would be silly to rail against that.

I am, however, growing tired, and I think all of us are. I know many people out there are thinking of getting pets for people for Christmas, and I wish you all would stop and think about the situation a little more clearly.

A pet is a serious responsibility. You're adopting a life, often a longer-lived one than you think, and giving it to someone else to care for. I don't really have a problem with pets as a family gift so long as the giver is willing to assume responsibility in the event the recipient cannot or will not. There's nothing wrong with a whole family adopting something like an Alexandrine, a Lorikeet, or a dog.

Where I get temperamental is when people give pets as gifts to, say, small children, and expect the children to take perfect care of them. They won't. They might try, sure, and an unusually responsible 12 year old might even do the research on how to care for a pet. But on average, I just can't trust any of your children to do that when you yourselves won't.

There are plenty of pets that this is especially pronounced for: every breed/strain of goldfish I know of exceeds six inches (often dramatically) in length and has a lifespan potentially measured in decades rather than single years - that's right, even those two-and-three-dollar feeder goldfish you've never seen live longer than six months. Goldfish need exorbitant care. If you are looking for a simple fish needing a minimum of care, look no further than a betta, but still expect to do frequent water changes - a well-cared-for betta can live for years.

Ditto for rodents. Hamsters are about the worst pet you can give a child and quickly go feral if not regularly handled - a task difficult at the outset as they start feral to begin with and have to be hand-tamed. A rat would be better, but expect it to live for a couple of years.

There's no pet I can think of (except perhaps a Mantis) who should not be expected to live at least three years, and most pets I can think of (and have kept) have had lifespans potentially reaching ten years or more. Birds and reptiles are among the clearest examples of this.

These turtles are called red-eared sliders. They're a common enough species in the pet trade that I've never actually seen another kind of pet turtle. They're cute and tiny now, but Red Eared Sliders live for thirty years or more and have an adult size approaching on a foot. Turtles, particularly aquatic ones, are some of the most care-intensive pets I can think of, and require that care, unfalteringly, for the better part of the rest of the recipient's life. If you give this to your child, they can reasonably expect to be caring for it while they're studying for the bar exam, or even, potentially, administering it.

"Affordable Dental"
Parrots are worse. The Alexandrine, above, has a lifespan exceeding 70 years, when properly cared for, and is about 18-20 months old. They're good little birds, and easy to maintain, but he's a lifelong companion for most who could afford him, and one you will in all likelihood be bestowing upon your friends or family when you pass on. That's a pretty big responsibility - many humans don't live as long as Alex will.

Conures, like this sun conure helping Mandy fix her loose crown (no, not really), have an average lifespan of 25 years. At their price, I doubt anyone would give them as an impulse gift, but it's still helpful to know what you're getting into.

As a family matter, pets are actually fantastic gifts. But the giver must always be willing to ensure that pet's standard of care, just as the adopter of a child must be willing to care for that child. That's why we try not to say you have "bought" this or that animal. You're adopting them. It's a life, and once you've let it out of the box it came in, you can't put it back in.

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