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.
Nelson says she’s successfully placed rats with families; with a Vietnam war medic; as well as at Douglas Hospital, a mental health institute in Montreal where they’re used in pet therapy.
“They’re just really cute, and they’re the cleanest and most intelligent of all rodents,” says Nelson. “They’re all my little ratscals.”
Dr. Robin Roscoe, a board-certified avian veterinarian at the Lynwood Animal Hospital, says birds are becoming more common pets.
“People have often thought of birds as pets who sit in a cage and you look at them, but with the advent of hand-raised parrots and other pet birds, it’s different now,” she says. “They interact with people. They’re cuddly pets.”
Roscoe says the key to successfully raising a non-traditional pet is doing “a lot of research” into what a particular animal is like, how to care for such a pet, and ensuring you have enough space for its cage or aquarium.
“If you don’t look after it properly, you can inadvertently cause these pets a lot of harm,” she says. Malnutrition is one problem that could occur.
It’s also important to socialize non-traditional animals. Roscoe says sugar gliders, for example, are marsupials who function better when they live in a group, not individually. But pets like rats and birds need attention from their owners.
One type of non-traditional pet that would benefit if owners did a lot of advance research is the ferret.
That’s because, as Blackburn Hamlet resident Lynn Lefevre describes them, ferrets are “perpetual two-year-olds” who are continually “getting into things.”
Lefevre, secretary of the Ferret Rescue Society of Ottawa and Area, says successful ferret owners are people “who will understand the animal, who are willing and able to take the time to play with them, care for them, and ask for help when they don’t know what’s going on.”
Ferrets are like dogs “who need to be handled and trained,” she says. They’re curious, determined animals who do well in pairs, like to tunnel and climb, and need at least an hour of play outside of their cage per day.
Nykki Cloutier, a Blackburn resident who’s a vice-president of the rescue society, adds ferrets constantly amuse their owners.
“You come home after a long day and they do the weasel war dance,” she says, describing the undulating movements ferrets perform when they’re happy.
“The dance is the dance of happiness for them.”
Anyone looking to get a pet ferret is urged to contact the rescue society. Members can be contacted at http://www.ferretrescue.ca/
“Ferrets are not really a children’s pet. We have to make sure the adults fully understand that,” says Cloutier. “They’re not really cuddly.”
Adds Lefevre: “Families are very busy with their children and, as the children get older, they’re running to soccer or baseball, so we have to make sure the adoptive families will have that time to look after the pet.”