The Quixotic Ownership of Exotic Pets

There are few things more exciting to a child than the opportunity to get up close and personal with animals that they don’t see every day. The appeal of a zoo, petting zoo, circus, wildlife park, or animal oriented theme park draws millions of people each year to gaze at the wondrous unfamiliar with wide-eyed amazement. Those settings are expected to reliably retain the appropriate personnel and design features to ensure the safety of spectators and visitors, and they generally live up to those demands.But what happens when the same wild animals are kept by people without training or supervision? Fifty years ago, the notion that people would keep bears, tigers, monkeys, and other undomesticated creatures as pets would have been seen as ludicrous. Today, however, that former fantasy is a contemporary reality.Animal companionship is nothing new, of course. Dogs and cats have been part of the household for thousands of years, and there is a burgeoning billion dollar industry centered upon owner willingness to put forth expenditures for toys and other luxuries. However, as pets become more pampered and the traditional pet-owner paradigm is replaced with overtones of aristocratic and dynastic fancy, unusual, “exotic pets” become increasingly desirable as a marker of status.This dangerous game of one-upsmanship has resulted in a niche population of people who keep wild animals in private homes as pets. These owners lack the training of the animal experts in the aforementioned arenas, and these homes do not have the necessary safety precautions built into the design.There is a gap between risk and awareness of these situations, because although reports of attacks by dogs are not unfamiliar to the public, exotic pet incidents resulting in serious personal injury or death remain under the collective radar because of the comparatively small number of these animals. Despite the relative infrequency of events involving exotic pets, the severity of those that occur is somewhat startling.Big cats are a favorite for exotic pet enthusiasts, and the inadequate supervision of a lion and tiger in Minnesota resulted in the paralysis of a ten-year-old boy visiting the family friend whose “pets” would change his life for ever. In Chicago, a pet Rhesus macaque monkey escaped and bit a fourteen-year-old girl viciously enough that she required hospitalization.The laws regarding exotic pet owner liability remain somewhat amorphous, but it is advisable for anyone who has been attacked by such an animal to contact an attorney for advice. If you have occasion to be in close proximity to a privately owned exotic pet, be especially wary or you may sustain serious injury. And remember: although children love animals, be sure to let them enjoy the experience in a safe, secure setting.