Where to Get a Pet - Comparing Sources

Part 1: Rescues and Shelters

Pet ferret
Pet ferret. Preappy / Getty Images

"Where can I get a <insert type of exotic pet here>?"

This is one of the most common questions I get. Unfortunately it is one of the most difficult for me to answer. So much of this question depends on which sort of pet is involved, where a person lives, and what resources are available in the area.

So what do I recommend? Above all else: research your pet before you get it. Know what you will need for supplies, food, and housing, before you get your pet.

Make sure you have everything prepared ahead of time, which will help reduce stress on your new pet. More importantly, you will be sure what to expect from a new pet, and what to look for to make sure your chosen pet is healthy. In addition, you will be protected from misinformed or unscrupulous sellers. Some of the misinformation that people get with their new pets includes how large an animal will get, how much care is required, and incorrect diet and housing advice. This is not to say that there are not very knowledgeable and conscientious sellers out there - some will be your best resource and source of information. Just be sure you read all you can beforehand to make sure you know what you are getting!

Depending on how exotic your pet is, or where you are, it may be quite difficult to find a source. Although in some cases you may not have a lot of choices, the pros and cons of different sources need to be considered:

 

Rescues/Shelters

If available I would recommend this as a first choice. There are a fair number of exotic pet rescues around the U.S., for example, and in many areas there are many exotics in need of homes. Rescues and shelters may have the kind of animal you are looking for, and will adopt them out to carefully screened homes.

This has the great advantage of providing a home to an animal that desperately needs one. The animals tend to be a little older (which can be an advantage as well as a disadvantage), and of course, you will want to make sure the animal is healthy and well socialized. Sadly, these animals are often abandoned because their previous owners did not know what to expect or how to care for them properly. Rescues can be a good place to find rabbits, guinea pigs, small rodents, and common reptiles such as turtles and iguanas, as they seem to be common victims of improper information and impulse sales through pet stores. For the less common exotic pet species, however, rescues and shelters may not be an option. Some listings and links to exotic pet rescues:

  • House Rabbit Society - Adoption and Rescue - listings of chapters of the society (online and off) which offer adoption/rescue resources.
  • This list is by no means exhaustive, and for most current listings you might go to a search engine like Google and do a search on the desired species of pet and include the search term "rescue" or "shelter" in the search box.

Next: Pet Stores

Shelters and Rescues | Pet Stores | Breeders | Classifieds, Friends, etc.

Depending on the store and the animal, this may not be the best choice. It is often difficult to find out how old the animal is, where it came from (some keep good record about sources and the animals' history), and it is too easy to make an impulse buy without really knowing what you are getting into. There is also a fair degree of animosity toward pet stores among some exotic pet fanciers. This situation arises out of experiences with some bad stores: sometimes animals are kept under deplorable conditions, and misinformation about care and expectations is sometimes dispensed.

I do not mean to imply that all stores are bad, but pet stores are not created equally, and it is in your best interest to seek out one who knows and cares for it's pets and has a well informed staff. Generally, if animals are kept in crowded conditions, inappropriate housing, and enclosures aren't kept clean, it is a good indication that their care is not optimal. And although it may seem noble to "rescue" an animal from such a poor environment, the the reality is this purchase just encourages replacement with another hapless animal.

Again, by thoroughly researching your pet choice well in advance of making the purchase, you can better evaluate the integrity of a pet store. Armed with knowledge of the proper husbandry of a pet, you will be able to at least partially judge the store by how the animals are kept and what sort of advice you recieve on their care and needed equipment. In my opinion, if a store is not properly caring for its animals and/or offers incorrect advice about caring for pets, then you should be wary of any animal that comes out of that store.

  • Pet Trade Issues on Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Site - wide ranging examination of the the problems with reptiles and amphibians and the pet trade.
  • Evaluating Pet Stores also from Melissa Kaplan - aimed at reptiles, but many of the points are applicable to any pet.

Next: Breeders

Shelters and Rescues | Pet Stores | Breeders | Classifieds, Friends, etc.

Certainly, for some types of pets this is the only viable option. The more "exotic" the pet, the less likely it will be found at pet stores or even rescues or shelters.

As with the other choices, you still need to make sure the animals are well cared for and socialized. If possible, visit the breeder and see what the premises are like: are their enclosures clean? Do they have food and clean water available?

Dog owners are warned to avoid puppy-mill type breeders, and similar warnings apply for exotics. This is the type of breeder that keeps lots of animals in substandard conditions, with little human contact, for the sole purpose of producing as many babies as possible. The animals may not be handled much and the young may not even be used to handling at all. This type of breeder probably won't ask you about your situation. The best breeders are the ones who want to know a lot about a potential owner. They want to make sure that a new owner will be a good fit with their pet, and that they know what to expect and can provide the proper care. Although you might feel like you are being interrogated by the breeder, this is actually a good sign. Good breeders also give a potential/new owner lots of material on care of their pets.

Sometimes it may be necessary to buy an animal from a distant breeder and have it shipped.

This is probably the riskiest and most expensive options. Shipping of live animals is expensive, but more importantly may result in a very stressed new arrival. There may also be limitations on when an animal can be shipped (i.e. due to adverse weather). Make sure that the animals will take as direct a route as possible, with few carrier changes or stopovers, as this may cause undue stress.

Also see what provisions can be made for access to water during the trip.

For some tips on choosing a breeder, try these:

  • Choosing a Breeder (PDF) - from the North American Pot Bellied Pig Association - fairly specific for pot bellied pigs but some good tips on evaluating a breeder.
  • Reputable Breeders vs. Puppy Mill - from "The Wolf is at the Door" so this is aimed at wolfdogs, but again good guidelines especially in the distinction between different sorts of breeders. Substitute any animal for the terms puppy/dog/wolfdog on this page and the descriptions of various types of breeders still fit.

Next: Classifieds, etc

Shelters and Rescues | Pet Stores | Breeders | Classifieds, Friends, etc.

Occasionally, a pet will be available from a friend, or newspaper ad, i.e. from someone who can no longer provide proper care, or who has lost interest. This can be okay, as long as you are certain of the animal's history, and that it is healthy and well cared for. The same warnings apply as with other sources - it is difficult to know exactly what you are getting, so be sure to ask lots of questions to determine what the pet is like and why it is available.

Have a look and see what conditions the pet is kept in, and ask to handle the pet to see how social it is (seeing the pet interact with it's current owner is important too, as some are likely to be shy around new people anyway). If you are inclined to rescue an animal that is not well cared for, be sure you know what to expect, and be prepared for vet bills and lots of patience and time to gain the animal's trust.

Finding a pet isn't easy, and it is sometimes hard to be patient. Rest assured, the time and effort required to find a good source for the right pet will be well worth it!

Shelters and Rescues | Pet Stores | Breeders | Classifieds, Friends, etc.