Pete the Vet shares his predictions for 2009:
Bizarre pets will become more popular. In the past year, I have come across people keeping sugar gliders, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches and Pacman frogs. In 2009, there will be more of these weird and wonderful pets. I've no doubt that they're often bought to impress, yet I also know that their owners become very fond of them and are generally in complete denial about any other pet-keeping motive than affection.
MoT: Bemusingly, true. We've been seeing this for a number of years now. When I was younger my family had a pet hedgehog (we were trend-setters, presumably). I've seen sugar gliders and degus for sale at the pet store I used to buy from, and heard of the sale of prairie dogs. Which makes no sense to me, since if you want a cuddly rodent companion who is longer-lived than a hamster and when put in your lap will lie there and make adorable noises, you cannot go wrong with a guinea pig. People are breeding Fennec foxes as pets, and even more bizarrely, in North America, we're seeing people buy red foxes (which reek and are anti-social - that site's a doozy, by the way), domestic skunks (which ... well), and even capybaras (which are 120lb guinea pigs, a prospect that delights and terrifies me equally. Also they require a pool to defecate in).
These animals as pets is a little weird, I must say. Even weirder are the people who want them. But people will always be weird.
Pedigree animals will continue to decline in popularity. The trend started by the BBC programme "Pedigree Dogs Exposed" shows no signs of abating. Many animal charities now actively discourage owners from buying pedigree dogs, as this over-the-top video from the USA demonstrates.
Noooo! No! It isn't too late to save our purebreds, people! Quit abandoning ship and start bailing out the water! Besides, just look at that video. It's from PETA. 'Nuff said, amiright?
Designer dogs are not the answer. We can save our purebreds. I liked Pedigree Dogs Exposed, but it's whipping up an awful lot of insecurity, and there are plenty of irresponsible muttpuppy breeders who'll take advantage of that. Bailing on your breed doesn't fix a thing - educating yourself on it does.
Animal rights will continue to move up the political agenda. Despite the recent conviction of animal rights activists for conspiracy to blackmail, there is a continuing surge of interest in the ideas that are typified by the concept that animals should be called "non-human persons". Pete Singer's book Animal Liberation was published in 1975, and since then, there has been a continual growth of interest in treating animals as sentient beings rather than as "dumb creatures" to be used as objects for use and abuse by humans.
We like animal welfare - which did gain a lot of momentum in 2008 - not animal rights. Dogs are dogs - not "persons".
Legislation to control pet ownership will increase. In 2008, Switzerland enacted legislation that means that prospective dog owners need to pass theoretical and practical tests (even vets aren't exempt from this ruling). The new Swiss laws also take a firm line on animal welfare in other ways, insisting that "social species", including guinea pigs and budgerigars, must be kept in groups of two or more because of the suffering induced by solitude. In the same way as smoking bans have become a worldwide phenomenon, the Swiss example could be part of a new trend.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up a minute. You want me to do what now?
I'm not saying education isn't important in dog ownership, but is this taking it a little too far? Will it really deter irresponsible owners, or will they slip through the cracks while better owners become reluctant? Why does this have to hit every dog breed, from Yorkie to Great Dane, all at once? Are things really this bad??
I feel a bit muddled on this one. I was in favour of breed-specific legislation in Ontario initially, because I expected it to weed out all the irresponsible owners of pit bull type dogs, but later changed my stance to: Screen the prospective owners! In fact, screen prospective owners of all "high-risk" breeds. I don't mean at risk of biting people - I mean at risk of developing a bad temperament due to poor ownership. Though it sounds cold, a Golden retriever will generally respond to abuse more passively than a bully breed. Why not check out which breeds are most likely to end up in rescues, and target those owners? I'm invested enough in the welfare of Border collies that I wouldn't mind writing some kind of test, but who's the government to say I can't adopt a family dog from a shelter without some kind of permit? More horrifying, what if I somehow fail the test? What does the practical test entail anyway? Going into a room with the dog and not beating it with a leash? (Actually, you have to walk a dog and react to certain situations that may arise. What situations? Because I'm five foot even, and when my dog gets it into his mind to say hi to another, well... He's stronger than he looks. Thank goodness for clickers.)
I don't know. I'm not sold. Though I like my government in many ways (when we actually have one [shakes a fist in Harper's direction]), I can be a bit of a libertarian when it comes to some issues. I don't like the idea of the government making me take the time to enroll in classes and write some test in order to adopt a dog. How much would the test tell you, really, anyway? And for that matter, while I implore prospective guinea pig buyers to invest in a pair, I also resent the Swiss government telling me that my Angry Pig is suffering - that she's being abused! - because she's alone. The government doesn't know that the AP fits the criteria for clinical sociopathy, nor that I tried when she was young to socialize and house her with another pig until I determined that the Elder Pig was in imminent danger of being strangled with piano wire and dumped in Lake Ontario. The government doesn't know that I keep the AP in my bedroom, where my desk and computer are, because I know it's where I spend most of my time, or that she gets "out-of-cage time" at least once or twice every day. And at the other end of the spectrum, I met a pair of guinea pigs who lived in their owner's basement, were taken out of the cage once a month, and fed whenever their dish was empty. Of course this isn't usually the case, but I'm just saying, it's not as cut-and-dry as forcing people to adopt in pairs. This won't tell you anything about the buyer or how the rest of the animals' lives are going to go. The AP is a cranky little snot, but she is very content, thankyouverymuch. The reason most people adopt a single pig is because A) they don't know how social guinea pigs are, and B) they don't realize that two pigs' upkeep is virtually the same as one. What we need is education over legislation here.
But mostly, I gotta say, I find it astounding that people would introduce a theoretical and practical test to screen prospective dog owners, and let any two human psychos breed willy-nilly without requiring any kind of parenting courses. Make that mandatory, and then talk to me about the dogs.
Switzerland, I think I may want a divorce.