The more I've learned about goldfish-they are more intelligent than we think, feel pain and engage in socially complex behaviors-the guiltier I feel that I subjected several of these creatures to a life of endless boredom, swimming circles in a small bowl on my daughters" dresser.
When I came upon the conclusion by the University of Tennessee ethologist Gordon Burghardt that the best we can do for captive reptiles and other animals is a life of "controlled deprivation", I wished I had never bought Lizzy, our leopard gecko. I felt a pit in my stomach when I learned that Lizzy's perpetual clawing at the glass wall of her tank was most likely a manifestation of captivity-induced stress. We had basically been torturing her and it is perhaps not surprising that she died after only two years despite our efforts to give her the proper care.
Like me, well-meaning pet owners may unwittingly cause harm by keeping animals in captive environments that might not meet their behavioral needs, such as a small bowl for a lone goldfish or a ten gallon tank with fake vines for a leopard gecko. I assumed during the days of my pet-buying frenzy that pet stores would sell only tanks and cages that provided appropriate housing for the animals they sell. But I was wrong. Some of these "habitats" hardly deserve the name. A current trend in aquariums is the so-called nano-tank, a fish habitat designed to fit nicely on the corner of a desk (complete with USB plug-in for your convenience). The tanks are sleek but woe to the fish expected to live its entire life in six cups of water.
The way the pet industry advertises and sells animals gives the impression that having a pet is easy and fun and that pets themselves are cheap and disposable toys. You can stop at the pet store in a mall and for $20 buy a brightly painted hermit crab complete with a cage that would fit on a 5 by 7 index card. Yet did you know that the recommended size tank for hermit crab welfare is at least 10 gallons? Or that hermit crabs, despite their name, are actually social creatures that live in large colonies? Or that the hermit crabs sold at the mall have most likely been plucked from their wild home since they don't breed well in captivity? That hermit crabs can live 30 years or longer? That they probably feel pain?
to be continued . . .
this continuing Op-Ed piece from the NewYork Times was written by Jessica Pierce, bioethicist and author of "Run Spot Run". In the next two Thursdays we will bring you Part three and Four.
Best-Pet-Store-Supplies is offering free one year subscriptions to BARK magazine, dog is my co-pilot. This publication is the most informative on the relationship between pet and owner.