Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on June 29, 2020.

Snakes near playgrounds, dead dogs on airplanes, horrendous puppy mills, exotic pets that should never be owned by anyone other than Mother Nature – welcome to the dark side of pet ownership.

The latest story was the snake spotted in Coquitlam near a playground a few days ago. Luckily, no one was hurt and the snake was apprehended.

That’s not always the case with escaped exotic pets.

You may recall the horrible and heartbreaking story of two little boys from Cambellton, N.B., who were killed in their sleep by an escaped African rock python whose owner lived nearby. Details are horrific. These animals do not belong here and yet, our exotic animal ownership laws are lax enough to allow it to happen, deadly consequences notwithstanding.

One of my grad school fellows had a green iguana as a pet. I never saw it but was told that it grew bigger than expected, and lived mostly in the bathtub (empty) because iguanas love a warm and humid environment.

A far cry from the green lush tropical environment you’d normally expect to find iguanas. Also, they can live to be 20. That’s a long time spent trapped in a bathroom, warm and humid as it may be.

Then, there’s the very sad stories of imported puppies.

Recently, a cargo that brought 500 French bulldogs from Ukraine to Canada made the news after 38 puppies died on their way over. The rest have since been handed over to their importers, which means the trade continues. Why import puppies in the first place and how many others are brought to Canada and we hear nothing about. The same happened in Richmond too, by the way, in January.

The increasing demand for pure breeds and designer dogs is a boon for breeders all over the world, and I am sure that some breeders care for their dogs in wonderful ways. However, many others don’t and that means abuse and suffering for animals. It also means that scammers will take advantage of those who want certain breeds and are willing to send deposits with no animal in sight.

So, is it the love for dogs or cats in general, that makes people adopt them into their families, or the desire to own a specific breed, or designer animal? There are many reasons why mixed breeds are healthier, although let’s agree that sometimes people want a certain breed because of their genetic traits. On a farm or ranch it could be guarding and herding, while calm breeds become therapy and guide dogs.  

If only a certain breed would do, there should be no purchasing without verifying the breeder’s credentials. Also, shipping puppies across the country or worldwide is a very stressful situation for an animal. Shop local, and ideally, adopt from local shelters. They abound with animals ready to be loved.

As for exotic pets, why own an animal that is not meant to live in captivity and why risk getting sick from them, or even hurt or killed by others?

It’s true that some pose no health risks to people, but ultimately, the question is: if we love animals, why encourage a trade that imprisons animals for life?

That exotic animals such as serval cats, iguanas, kangaroos, and parrots are still legal in B.C. is a sad and outdated policy. Worse yet, there are many illegal wild animals that find their way into Canada. Except for the Yukon, that is, where owning exotic animals is forbidden. It shows that it can be done.

Last but not least, the ongoing pandemic is a reminder that wild critters can pose a serious health risk to humans when traded (or consumed) and there is no medication to help us fight against some of the viruses and bacteria that jump from animals to humans.

Owning an animal is a matter of responsibility and accountability at all levels. Also, recognizing that we are better off with the ones that have been domesticated long ago to keep us loving company can eliminate horror stories and reveal happy ones instead, because there are many.