Whatever the animal, they’re all among the non-traditional pets that a growing number of people are opting to share their lives with instead of old favourites like dogs or cats.
Louis McCann, executive director of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), says the increased interest in non-traditional pets can be attributed to “alternate choice” due to lifestyle and health considerations
“For example, non-traditional pets like reptiles are hypoallergenic,” says McCann from PIJAC’s Canadian headquarters in Orleans.
Pets like snakes are animals “that are more suitable to observation. The challenge is in creating a suitable habitat,” he says. Consequently, busy owners don’t have to make time to exercise their pet or “worry about a leash” or “poop and scoop.”
But even with the increased interest and popularity, McCann notes that non-traditional pets only account for about five per cent of the national pet population.
“In Canada, 98 per cent of the pets you see come from captive breeding programs, or hand-raised programs,” he says. “So the animals are more people-friendly, there is less disease, and vet care has never been as high or as available as now.”
Carole Nelson of Blackburn Hamlet is a long time hobbyist breeder of fancy pet rats. She insists they’re among the most people-friendly of non-traditional pets, yet for years rats have been given a bad rap.
“In the movies, they put lights on them to make sure they look like they have beady eyes. But they’re so cute and smart,” says Nelson.
“The one thing about rats which is really important is that these are domesticated pets like a cat or dog. It’s like relating them to a dog and a wolf. Sure, wild rats in the sewer can’t be domesticated but these have been domesticated for about 100 years.”
A visit to Nelson’s “Lil Ratscals Rattery” provides ample proof that rats can be loving pets. For example, while the mere thought of being near a rat can give some people nightmares – an issue Nelson addresses on her website http://www.lilratscal.com/ – she lets her rats climb all over her.
“You really should play with your rat for an hour a day. They love their humans,” she says, nuzzling three rats on her shoulders.
Nelson’s introduction to rats came more than 20 years ago when her son Craig brought one home from school. She immediately told him he had two weeks to get rid of the rodent.
“He said to me, ‘Mom, in two weeks you won’t even notice him,’ ” Nelson recalls.
She relented and her love of rats has since led her to develop a comprehensive website which is home to a forum for the Ontario chapter of the Rat and Mouse Club of America.
It’s also resulted in Nelson going on a recent all-expense paid trip to California to participate as a contestant on the Animal Planet’s Pet Star show which features groups of animals performing tricks in front of a studio audience.
(Nelson’s segment is slated to air anywhere from November 29 or later.)
Among the rat strains Nelson has bred are the Siamese, Dumbos (with elephant ears), and hairless.
“They are awesome mothers,” says Nelson, noting her grandson Scott regularly visits to play with the rats and to build mazes for them.