Monday, 23 May 2011


My comment on an article about neglected pets on The Guardian website:
I'm dissapointed at the number of "who cares?" style comments. This story is about avoidable abuse, exploitation and neglect that is caused by apathy, misinformation and a lack of proper research. It doesn't matter whether the victim is a goldfish, a rabbit or a child - it is avoidable and inexcusable. Why does it matter that you don't care about a rabbit? I don't particulary care about footballers but if it transpired that they were often abused or exploited by their managers, I'd be concerned. This story isn't really about rabbits - it's about how selfish, blinkered or ignorant people make decisions that cause harm to others.

There are many problems in the world, as a number of commenters have pointed out. So what? Why do we have to 'ration our compassion'? A concern for plight of abused children (for example) doesn't give anyone an excuse to neglect their companion animals. If you can't look after an animal properly and don't have the sense or decency to do some serious research into the creature you wish to keep, then don't get it. Simple as.

All my companion animals live well. The first thing I do when adopting a new animal is research, research, research. I have the feeling I am in the minority, however. I worked for a major UK pet retailer for a number of months. The sheer number of customers who come in and either refuse to take advice or do research into the animals is shocking. Many just want the smallest, cheapest enclosure and want to feed the cheapest food. They want a fun toy and are totally unprepared to look after a living, sentient being. This is so prevalent that the actual advice that you get in pet shops is affected. The upper management know that most customers don't want a big committment or to spend a lot of money. They encourage staff to make the whole process seem easier than it really is, offering substandard advice and stocking cheap, tacky and inadequate equipment for the animals so that ignorant, selfish customers are not put off by the higher prices associated with large, good quality enclosures or properly formulated feeds. Sometimes the staff are not aware of how much the advice they are giving is 'dumbed down', especially if the staff are not experienced with animals or inclined to do their own research. I remember joining the company as a keen aquarist - I was very quickly told to shut up and toe the company line, or I could lose my job. I was repeatedly discouraged from giving proper advice and every day I had to make decisions that I knew put animals into abusive situations. Unless I wanted to lose my job, I had to enable animal abuse. It's as simple as that and the sad thing is that most of the other staff just nodded along with it. Most believed that the company was right because their advice was 'expert approved' and refused to take on board infomation to the contrary. My manager even believed a number of factual falsehoods and refused to listen when I explained that (for example) ammonia is not a kind of bacteria (very relevant to fishkeeping!). I eventually left in disgust.

Caring about humans doesn't mean you shouldn't care about animals. If you get a companion animal, please research widely into its needs and please adopt from a shelter or rescue. The pet industry is a horrible thing; animals churned out like cheap toys, the conditions are cramped and often unclean, the animals are taken away from their mothers far too early, often given a terrible diet and many will never see a vet if they are sick. All of this before the animal reaches the pet shop. We have no right to do this to sentient beings just because we want a living toy or an 'unusual' gift for someone. Pet overpopulation is completely our fault, as a society. We are the reason so many animals languish in shelters or get destroyed because they are unwanted, abused and badly trained. We are the reason that so many 'owners' don't know or don't care about the animals they keep. Please help those who are already in 'the system' and don't pay breeders and shops to produce more. This goes for all animals, from goldfish to geckos to cats to dogs.

If you don't have time for an animal or have 'better things to worry about', then that's fine. Don't get the animal. Neglect doesn't show that you have important things to do in your life, it doesn't show that you have your prioreties straight. It doesn't show that you have common sense, or don't get worked up about the little things. It shows that you're selfish and irresponsible.

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