The human race fulfills an evolutionary niche unlike any other creature in the observed universe. We sit at the top of every conceivable food chain and all other organisms are beneath us. Over the years human beings have domesticated hundreds of other species, often selectively breeding them to better suit our needs and provide us with food, materials and companionship.
Nevertheless, of those species we have only ever produced two worthy of being “pets,” in my opinion: cats and dogs.
Many people choose to define themselves as a “cat” or “dog” person; indeed, both of these types are well-represented in the Splinter newsroom (with the numbers trending toward cats). “I’m a dog person, I hate cats,” many people say, or vice versa, and that is fine. Here is what I would like to say: “I am a dog and cat person, and all the rest of the animals are bad.”
Right now you are perhaps running through the other animals that people keep as pets to prove me wrong. You can do that but in my opinion it is you that is wrong, not me, and I am willing to stand by this opinion in the face of all of the internet vitriol that will come my way.
What other pets are there? A snake? No one should own a snake. Snake ownership has delivered one good thing unto this world and that is this Vine, which is, paradoxically, also a powerful indictment against keeping snakes indoors.
Many people own rats. This is not an animal I personally think one should own. A friend and former coworker of mine is very devoted to her pet rats and will likely be very angry at me for writing this piece, but I cannot let her off the hook. One time she went on vacation, and because we lived close by, I took care of the rats. The rats were fine—cute, even. But they were still rats, living in a cage when they are far more suited to roaming free, living off of the detritus of a rapidly decaying city, existing as a mirror for the small depravations of daily life we are all forced to perform.
Rabbits? No. I had a friend in college who owned a rabbit and I remember one day we were doing whippets in her living room and the rabbit was hopping around and shitting. It would not let anyone pet it but it would let them watch it shit. This is the extent of my experience with rabbits and also with whippets and I would not like to repeat any of it.
What about farm animals, like goats, pigs, horses, etc., you may ask? To which I say: Do you live on a farm? If yes, then of course, keeping livestock or work animals is acceptable. But keeping a pet pig? Putting said pig on a leash? Strange, to me.
There was a story in the New York Times a few years ago about the surprisingly large number of people who keep pet pigs in New York City. Here is where my opinion on pets contains, if you will, some nuance.
The judge was intrigued.
Before her in a hearing room on Staten Island sat Cristy Matteo, the owner of a pet pig named Wilbur. She was accused of illegally harboring a wild animal.
The judge said that she knew of only one other pig that had been through the system, Ms. Matteo recalled. The judge named the pig. Ms. Matteo immediately named the pig’s owner.
“The judge was smiling at me,” Ms. Matteo said. The judge asked if there was an underground pig network in New York. “I said, ‘More than you can imagine.’”
Do I support, on the principle of sticking it to the man, New York City’s underground pig network? Yes. Wilbur is innocent and should be allowed to remain in his home—legally. But socially, it is strange to own a pig, even if you are Ariana Grande. I would not do it. Should it be legal to own many of these animals as pets? In most cases, yes. Where ferrets are concerned, no, because ferrets are super weird, like, illegally weird. See sections on rats above, and also snakes—ferrets appear to be both, and I will do no further research on them to disavow me of this notion.
Reptiles? A lizard, perhaps? No. I had a lizard once. He was a blue-belly that I captured in the wild at a friend’s house by spraying with a cold hose so he got real slow and we could catch him. I made a terrarium for him that, a week or so later, my mother put outside in the sun so he could get warm and then forgot about and he shriveled up and died. This was, clearly, an atrocity and I still feel bad about it today. I will never own a lizard again, and the thought of other people owning something so fragile and small makes me nervous.
This brings us, in a roundabout way, to birds. Should you own a bird? No. I am conflicted on this, because in theory I like birds. I thoroughly enjoy watching videos of people’s pet birds on the internet. Look: this one can drum with its face. That is incredible. I cannot do that and I cannot think of another animal that can.
But you should not own a bird. This is not a societal argument—although I am sure that bird people are also strange—but a moral one. You are taking one of the only groups of animals on Earth capable of flight, and restricting them to an environment where they cannot fly—and where, for the most part, they will never know flight. This seems wrong. Also, birds are often loud, and you have to cover their cages with a sheet to make them stop being loud, which seems excessive. In general I think a good rule is that any animal you must keep in a cage should not be a pet.
We will not be discussing keeping insects or arachnids as pets in any detail, as that shit is too freaky for me to write about.
This is, of course, a free country. You may own many of the animals mentioned here as pets, legally. That is your right as the supreme form of life in our given environment. But should you? No. Owning them is weird.
What is not weird is owning a dog or a cat. Preferably no more than three total and a maximum of two of the same species. Any more is too many dogs, or too many cats, in my opinion. These are good animals. You rarely have to put them in cages. They are good companions, and with the exception of some selectively mutated breeds of dog, are of a convenient size to keep around human beings without constant fear that they will escape and be harmed by something. You can debate the merits of one species over the other until you are blue in the face. I will not stop you, and I will agree with points on both sides. Dogs? They’re good. And so are cats. But with the incredible power evolution has bestowed upon us comes the responsibility to not abuse said power, by, for instance, keeping one of nature’s myriad of weirder creations as a pet.