Friday, March 8, 2013

Exotic Animals and Argumentation

The composition 2 class I teach is about writing persuasive and argumentative essays, or using argument in logical, courteous discourse. I have my students do short writing prompts on their opinion about many different contentious issues in the world today to help them find topics that interest them for their essays.

One topic came up about the private ownership of exotic animals. Students gave their opinion/solution on two counter-point arguments printed in USA Today editorials on September 15, 2011.

Should you or your neighbor own bears, tigers, lions, wolves, boa constrictors, alligators, crocodiles, or other unusual pets? These animals are easily procured from the Internet, but how many are privately owned? Specific numbers are hard to come by, but one article in National Geographic claims 15,000 large cats in U.S. under private ownership. Zoos and other professional animal handlers of various ilk have to be licensed, but not all states require licensing of private owners. The situation is described at the Wildlife Research and Conservation blog.

The viewpoints of those opposed fell into three arguments: 1) human treatment of animals, 2) inherent danger to owner, family, visitors, and neighbors, and 3) environmental issues.

The major problem is the same one as found in many other issues: irresponsibility. First off, many owners don't know the dietary and housing needs their exotic pet requires, and information can be hard to find. Exotic animals can be very expensive to keep, not only for secure habitats, but also for food and veterinary costs. Because of this, many fall into the neglected and starved animal scenario. Before this situation arises, some owners ask their local zoo to take their animal, but most licensed facilities have already been animaled-out by private owners and can't take any more. This leads many owners to release their exotics even though the local climate and landscape are entirely unsuitable for the animal, leaving the pet to die when the weather turns. Owners release others into environments where they can overwhelm native species. The Everglades are full of boa constrictors released when they became too 'big' for the owner to handle. Alligators have been found in New York's sewers, and perhaps you remember the Ohio incident where a man released his private zoo, many on the endangered species list, before committing suicide. Most of the animals shared his fate of death. These animals can ultimately create dangerous situations or cost the taxpayer for their capture or eradication.

Those who approve ownership felt it is their right to be able to own any animal they want if it isn't against their state's laws. As long as they remain responsible owners, leave them alone. They love their exotic pet and feel they are also helping keep some species from extinction. You want to talk about human treatment of animals? Talk to your local ASPCA or Human Society. Deaths by dog are probably much higher than deaths by exotic animal. Domestic cats also destroy native habitats by their superior skills in hunting native species of birds, reptiles, and small mammals, but no one is suggesting everyone has to get rid of their pet dog or cat. Plus, owners failure to neuter their domestic pets has also led to major problems. Why single out exotic pet ownership as irresponsible?

So, what do you think?
Winston, a dropped off  at the road, now thirty-pound, neutered pet and as big a cat as I want to handle.

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