By: Eileen Perez-Carrion for UAPPEAL
When one acquires an animal one is making themselves responsible for that animal for its ENTIRE life. This applies to dogs, cats, and especially exotic/alternative animals. Animals are not disposable commodities that can be discarded once we are tired of them, their baby "cuteness" has worn off, or have grown too large to use in exhibitions and as educational animals. Casual acquisition of any animal hurts us all. So before acquiring an animal be sure you are committed to its care for life and have suitable arrangements for them.
Responsible Ownership BEFORE Purchasing:
-Fully research the care, husbandry, characteristics, and life span of the animal you plan to possess. Research what your animal will be like as an adult. Know their adult size, weight, age at maturity, and other pertinent information.
-Know the level of commitment required. Know how many hours per day the animal will require of your time for proper mental development. Be sure that your current employment will allow for you to dedicate the necessary time to your animal.
-Know the legality of owning the animal you plan to possess. If you are a breeder, ensure that you are selling to legal areas. If you are interested in becoming a breeder, exhibitor or educator or starting a sanctuary, research all the relevant laws that may apply. Check federal, state, as well as local animal ordinances, and permit requirements, if needed. Always get in writing whether the animal or starting a facility is permitted or not. Ask to see the specific ordinance and document it.
-Know the costs associated with feeding the animal and take into account any necessary supplements the animal may need for proper growth and development. Many exotics require other food items, such as fruits and vegetables or vitamins, in addition to their commercial diet which may increase feeding costs significantly.
-Know adequate enclosures sizes and enrichment items for both for mental and physical stimulation of your animal. Most importantly is the need for a secure enclosure to prevent the animal's escape, as well as preventing others from entering the enclosure. Proper locks at all entrances to the enclosure, a perimeter fence around enclosure to prevent unintended physical contact by strangers, as well as containing the animal should it escape its primary enclosure, are wise. For the larger species perimeter fencing is law in most states.
-Know what veterinarian will see your animal, as well as a veterinarian in case of emergencies.
Responsible Ownership AFTER Purchase:
-Always maintain full control of your animal while in public or with family and friends (leash, harness or other restraint device to maintain safe handling) no matter how docile the animal. This should apply to domestic species as well.
-Never allow strangers, especially children, to touch your animal if it is an animal considered inherently dangerous, or simply leave it at home. For USDA exhibitions, always ensure that all safety precautions and laws are followed regarding public contact.
-Always supervise interaction between animals and children especially those which are very young. Even with domestic animals, such as dogs, toddlers and young children should never be left alone with any animal, and proper precautions should be taken to prevent animals from entering an area where children may be in without an adult present.
-Have someone who is in charge of feeding/caring for your animals in the case of your absence, death, or inability to care for them. With life spans of over 20 years for many species, it is difficult to foresee what will happen that far in the future. Life changes sometimes require the re-homing of a pet or the closing of a facility resulting in the re-homing of the animals. Seeing that your animal is provided for its entire life (whether in your care or that of others) is an essential component of responsible exotic/alternative animal ownership.
-NEVER release an exotic animal to the wild. Find a suitable home for your animal. Release of non-native species to the wild negatively impacts the rest of responsible owners who are committed to their animals for life, as well as interrupts the natural ecology of an area. It is ILLEGAL in all states to release wildlife. Some states such as Florida have a "Pet Amnesty Day" where animals can be turned in at a set location on a specific day, and others with proper permits can adopt the animals. People turning in their pets on "Pet Amnesty Days" will have no penalty, even if animal was kept illegally. It is a "No questions asked" policy.
-Always keep your permits updated, and keep up with new laws which may affect your status, such as additional insurance requirements, increased enclosures sizes, etc.
-Always keep records of your animal’s acquisition papers, vaccinations, vet visits, and permits. Document EVERYTHING. This may help you should an exotic animal ban be enacted after you have acquired your animal. Although we see our animals as MUCH more than mere property, from a legal standpoint it is better for the courts to consider them property because we have the right to protect our property.
-Keep a contingency plan readily available in case of emergencies, and who should be contacted if something was to occur in your absence.
-Never stop learning. Discuss with other owners their experiences, and offer help to those who may not be up to par.
-Maintain an atmosphere of unity among other exotic owners, and support each other through education in order to provide high quality animal care.
IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ
CURRENT and POTENTIAL OWNERS, please take the time to read this message. This applies to owners of pets, businesses, educational programs, facilities, and organizations.
Recently there have been several incidents regarding exotic animals across all sectors. Because incidents involving exotic animals are rare, especially when compared to other day-to-day activities and incidents involving domestic animals, the media tends to create a frenzy around any minuscule incident, blowing it out of proportion. Unfortunately, Animal Rights groups who oppose ALL use of ALL animals take advantage of these incidents to call our legislators to ban the ownership, breeding, and exhibiting of exotics. Even sanctuaries are being included in these bans. There are already bans in place in about 20 states, and more are introducing bills to ban or severely restrict keeping exotic animals in captivity. Every incident puts the exotic animal community at risk. We need to be PROACTIVE and show our lawmakers that WE ARE RESPONSIBLE and bans are not needed. In the end, the one paying the highest price is the animal when an incident occurs. Our beloved animals count on us to keep them safe and healthy.
Exotic animals do not have a federally approved rabies vaccine like domestic animals do, even though we all know they are effective. In the case of an animal bite or scratch the ONLY way to be 100% positive an animal is not infected with rabies is to test the animal for rabies by KILLING the animal and testing its brain tissue. Quarantine is an option, but government agencies (whose officials are not keen on animal husbandry) rarely opt for this option because they do not want the liability. There has NEVER been a case of a primate infecting a human with rabies in the US, and there has never been a positive result after euthanizing a captive primate after an incident. This does NOT matter to government officials. They will usually follow CDC recommendations to euthanize an animal where there is no approved rabies vaccine. This is ONLY a recommendation, and the CDC leaves the decision up to the state, but this is the route followed in MOST cases.
The ONLY way to prevent this from happening is by keeping exotics AWAY from situations where they may come into unintended contact with the public and cause another incident. As responsible owners we need to be prepared for any situation life may throw at us. NEVER have anyone other than yourself or someone you have PROPERLY trained, have contact with your animals. It is NOT worth risking your animal's LIFE.
IMPORTANT SAFETY GUIDELINES TO FOLLOW
-Build caging so that in the event of your absence any person can care for your animals WITHOUT coming into contact with them.
-Have feeding stations and water changed/refilled from OUTSIDE of the cage.
-Equip caging with lock-out boxes, where the animal can be locked out of its main cage from OUTSIDE so the keeper can enter and clean safely. Again this is to prevent CONTACT with animal by any caretaker other than the owner. Train all keepers, volunteers, and caregivers how to properly use them.
-Equip caging with transfer tunnel so that animal can be transferred from main caging to carrier safely. Lock-out box can double as a transfer cage if guillotine door is put on exterior.
-Keep guillotine door transfer cages on property.
-Maintain an emergency plan in a conspicuous place where all animal safety/restraint equipment can be found as well as emergency contact information for who can care for your animal in your absence, detailed steps to take, and important information for each animal (special dietary needs, allergies, habits, etc.) in case of emergency. Perhaps leaving a trusted neighbor or relative with a copy of your evacuation plan to give to emergency response personnel is a good idea.
-Require those caring for or handling your animals to have their rabies vaccine current. In the event that there is a bite or scratch, there would be a higher chance of quarantine versus euthanasia if the caretaker is current on their rabies vaccine.
-Keep current records for all your animals (veterinary visits, vaccine records, acquisition/purchase documents from USDA breeder, current permits, etc)
-Perimeter fencing or barriers, especially in medium sized and larger animals
-Place SIGNS on caging and around barriers warning visitors NOT TO TOUCH!
-Do NOT allow strangers to touch your animals except for USDA exhibitions where all laws and safety precautions are followed.
-Keep animals under lock and key, and always DOUBLE CHECK enclosure doors/locks to be sure they are secure when leaving cage.
-In the case of large animals which have the potential to severely harm human life if they escape, keep equipment on hand to subdue the animal quickly (dart guns, etc), and train keepers and caregivers how to properly use them.
I know that some of this sounds like it is not needed because your animals will never bite, or it is just overkill because you only have small animals such as squirrel monkeys, fennec foxes, Geoffrey's cats, etc., but we must remember they are ANIMALS. ANY animal with teeth can bite, including dogs, cats etc. The difference between a dog biting and an exotic is that dogs have an APPROVED rabies vaccine so dogs will not be killed, whereas exotics will be KILLED. It does not matter that the bite was minimal. Bites do not require medical attention to require euthanasia. A SCRATCH is all that is needed to require the killing of your animal for rabies testing, even an ACCIDENTAL SCRATCH where the animal showed no aggression! THIS HAS HAPPENED! Following the steps above will ensure the safety of your animals as well as the public.
PLEASE KEEP YOUR EXOTICS AWAY FROM SITUATIONS WHERE THEY CAN COME INTO UNINTENDED CONTACT WITH THE PUBLIC AND CAUSE ANOTHER INCIDENT THAT COULD END OWNERSHIP, OF THESE ANIMALS FOREVER!
Note to those in the US: If you take your animals out in public, you are considered to be an exhibitor and must obtain a USDA Exhibitor's license.