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.