Dr. K Should Not Disparage Exotic Animal Owners on National Television
“At Broward Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital, we treat your pets like the valued family members they are.”
Have you ever taken a human family member to the local doctor, only for this physician to smile, treat you like a valued customer, then turn around and say that your family member has no business living with you on national television? I’m guessing not. But that is exactly what is occurring in the new Nat Geo Wild program, Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER, a show that features the daily life of a veterinarian that exclusively sees patients that are not dogs and cats.
Let me start this article off by making this perfectly clear.
If you are a client of Broward Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital and if you own (or support people who own) ‘non-domesticated’ species including parrots, reptiles, or anything other than typical rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs (yes, even if she owns some of these pets herself), it is imperative that you locate another vet as soon as possible, unless you have an absolute emergency and cannot find another suitable vet, but after your animal recovers, let her know why you won’t be returning for any wellness exams.
The keeping of exotic pets is controversial—in fact, it has suffered so much that now even some of the doctors that we entrust their health care to are against the practice and feel as though they must lampoon buying exotic pets to appear angelic in the face of the public.
People are, of course, entitled to their own opinions, despite the fact that it is nearly irrefutable that keeping most exotic pets doesn’t differ at all, ethically, from keeping so-called domesticated animals as long as they are receiving proper care.
This proper care does include finding a vet experienced with animals that have the unique needs of your species. However, Dr. Susan Kelleher, or Dr. K as she is called, has taken her exotic pet criticism to a new, pitiful level.
Now that she has her own TV show, she implores her viewers that while she will treat (and collect large sums of money from) her clients’ ‘exotic pets’, she does not believe her clients should own them. She does this with extravagantly failed logic which I routinely debunk in my articles, and will also do so here.
- 5 Irrefutable Arguments That Support Exotic Pet Ownership
A quick introduction to my way of thinking about the exotic pet controversy.
Meet Dr. K! She doesn’t approve of what you own.
I was admittedly excited about this show, missing programs like Animal Planet's Emergency Vets (featuring the clinic Alameda East that sees both domesticated and exotic pets without a single disparaging remark to my recollection) that I've grown up with, so you can imagine my disappointment with this short clip when I heard Dr.K say this:
“But I have to be honest, sometimes I say to myself…why is this animal in captivity? Y’know you just have to come to the realization…these animals are in the pet trade, period. I don’t promote that they stay in the pet trade”.
A fennec fox gets a check up
Here is what Dr.K thinks of her client, David Rodriguez, and his captive bred fennec fox:
“I kinda have some qualms about fennec foxes being pets…  …they’re actually natives to the Sahara desert, so they’re a desert species. It’s not normal for them to live in Florida.”
First of all, fennec foxes are mostly kept as indoor pets, so the typical household wards off Florida’s oppressive humidity. Fennec foxes are some of the ‘easiest’ exotic pets a person can hope to own.
Second, nearly every zoo in existence maintains species not native to the climate of which they are located. Most exotic animals do completely fine, or sometimes even better, in climates they haven’t evolved in. There is literally no difference between keeping a fennec fox in Florida and keeping a Siberian husky in Florida (the fox will probably be affected less), but once again, the highly irrational ‘domestication myth’ prevents people from making the same logical conclusions we routinely do with our common domestic pets.
- Understanding Domestication | The Ethics of Wild Animals as Pets and in Zoos
Why do people put down wild animals in captivity while being perfectly fine with domesticated animals in human control? Are domesticated animals really that different from exotic animals?
The narrator (not the vet) also states:
“They’re believed to be declining in the wild due to the pet trade and hunting them for their fur"
...as if Mr. Rodriguez hasn’t been degraded enough by Dr. K. Now the typical ignorant viewer is scoffing at his decision to acquire an ‘unsuitable’ pet and put them at risk for extinction. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has this to say about the fennec fox (Vulpes zerda):
“Listed as Least Concern, although there is no detailed information on its abundance, the species is relatively widespread in the sandy deserts and semi-deserts of northern Africa to northern Sinai. At present, there are no known major range-wide threats believed to be resulting in a population decline that would warrant listing in a threatened category.”
“Current statistics are not available, but the population is assumed to be adequate based on the observations that the fennec is still commonly trapped and sold commercially in northern Africa.”
This statement tells us that not only is the fennec fox wild population highly unlikely to be in trouble, but the ‘pet trade’ they are a part of mainly exists locally in their native region (“exhibition or sale to tourists”). Because fennec foxes readily breed in captivity, they are fully sustainable, even if some are removed from the wild, legally or illegally, and this is the case with the most popular exotic mammals in the pet trade.
A quick Google search for ‘fennec fox smuggling’ does not yield any relevant results, confirming my suspicion that fennecs are not popular candidates for shipment to the United States pet trade. Here, the breeding meets the demand of fennecs as pets. Therefore, buying a captive bred fennec in the United States does little or zero harm to the wild populations that are doing well anyway.
“Because these exotic animals are not your typical pet all the variables must be as close to mimicking the outdoor environment because these animals are not domesticated they’re not supposed to live indoors but we force them to…”
This statement that Dr. Thielen (another vet that works under Dr.K) makes about pet reptiles is technically correct, but the rhetoric reeks of anti-exotic pet sentiment. When she states “but we force them to”, it sounds like the animal is being cruelly treated, or subjected to terrible conditions.
In reality, ball pythons are some of the easiest snakes you can own, and they can easily thrive and breed in captivity despite completely 'unnatural' conditions just like any pet rabbit. It is completely untrue that ANY animal, including dogs and cats, has evolved to live indoors with humans. This same failed logic is mirrored in Dr.K's written statement on this article:
"The message I really want to get out to people on this show is that these animals with wild instincts and wild needs are living in a relatively unnatural environment."
Am I blowing things out of proportion?
No. No. And no. If you are an exotic pet owner, you probably realize the immense pressure that special interest groups are placing upon us and our passion to live with unique animals.
It seems that ever year, another horrendously draconian ban is placed on a relatively harmless group of animals because of the successful manipulative actions these groups carry out. Every little bit of criticism aimed at exotic pet owners at this point is like whipping an exhausted, dying horse.
Exotic pet owners should certainly not tolerate any contributions to anti-exotic pet owner sentiment from the people they are employing to help them with their pets, especially if it is televised. The damage that programs like this do to pet owners is irreversible.