Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sometimes, Responsibility Means Saying "No" to Your Heart

My husband had business (of the remodeling type) at an exotic pet store a few weeks ago, so I tagged along to pet the bunnies and the bearded dragons. I've had the pleasure (or displeasure, in some cases) of owning and caring for quite a variety of types of animals over the years, and although today I'm primarily a dog-lover, I still like to interact with other kinds of critters and reminisce about the old days.

But imagine my surprise to see a miniature potbellied piglet in a large tank at the front of the store! He was about the size of an adult cat, pale pink with white hair, curled up in a comfy nest of shavings. I cautiously (okay, maybe not so cautiously, but he was so cute!) put my hand in the tank (Does he bite? Will it hurt?), and we proceeded to take turns terrifying each other. The baby pig jumped and dashed about, trying to avoid my giant looming hand, and when he turned to sniff my fingers, I jerked my hand back out of fear (Is he going to bite me?).

After a bit of this frightening back-and-forth, I became convinced that I could outmaneuver any biting on his part, so I boldly started to pet him on his back and the side of his face. The pig, on the other hand, froze like a deer in headlights. I knew the poor thing was scared, but he was soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo cute, I selfishly couldn't stop petting him.

Then my inner eight-year-old came out. "Can I have him?" I begged my husband. "Please? He's so cute! I heard that pigs are just like dogs, and they can be housetrained and taught to do tricks and all sorts of things like that. Please? PLEEEEEEEEASE?" My husband, not swayed by the adorable porcine snout rooting in the shavings, nor the adorable grunts, nor the tiny adorable feet with tiny adorable toenails, said flatly: "No."

Thinking I could come up with a better pro-pig argument if I had some solid scientific facts, I asked the store staff for a book on miniature pigs. This they supplied to me with a flourish, and I sat on the floor and read the book while my husband conducted his business with the owners.

By the end of the book, I no longer wanted a miniature pig.

Due to the book's thorough and informative contents, I had a better understanding of the requirements for pig ownership--and they were not the sort of requirements I was prepared to meet. I didn't want to do the work or make the lifestyle changes necessary to enjoy a pig (and for the pig to enjoy me).

Sometimes an animal is so cute that it's almost impossible to resist the temptation to plunk down some money and walk off with it. But it's neither responsible nor humane to do that without first knowing what you're getting into--and being willing to take on those responsibilities. If you're put in this same position, here are some tips for "quelling the cute":
  • Find an ownership book immediately and read it immediately.
  • Do not ask a store employee to tell you about the pet. Their job is to sell it to you; they aren't going to be honest and forthright about drawbacks (and keep in mind that store employees may not have much experience about the pets they're selling in the first place).
  • Imagine the pet urinating all over your carpet (replace with your bed if you have bare floors).
  • If you are still determined to get the pet (or one like it), FOSTER ONE FIRST. That is, contact a rescue group and sign up as a foster home. Try owning this kind of pet on a temporary basis before you take a plunge that will last for the lifetime of the pet, which may live a decade or more.
  • Always remember, this isn't the last cute pet you are ever going to see. There are THOUSANDS of adorable kittens and puppies in animal shelters across the country waiting for homes. If you aren't ready for a pet, wait. When you're ready to take on a pet, trust me--another absolutely adorable critter will be there waiting for you.

One good thing did come out of reading the book: I learned how to pet a miniature pig. You gently rub a pig on its belly and chin, and it rolls over on its back, closes its eyes, and grunts happily.

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