07:34 Friday 01 March 2013

Which animal is right for you?

Written byDale Preece-Kelly

How do you define which animal is the right pet for you? I have a friend – Dr Daniel Allen, who has spent the last year searching for an answer to that exact question, and has documented it all in a book “Animal Obsessions: True Stories From A Pet-Loving Nation” (Out Soon!). Dr Dan has inspired this post.

We really ARE a nation of pet-lovers! If you’ve been following this blog, then you will know that I have a few pets – okay, I have LOTS of pets, around 100 plus – but have I found the perfect pet for me? You know what… I think I am one of the lucky ones who have!

The top five pets in the UK are (in order of popularity): fish, cats, dogs, rabbits and birds. If you have one of these, or indeed several, are they the PERFECT pet? Or do you occasionally wish you had a different pet? Maybe they do things that annoy you and you wish you could get that particular trait ironed out, or maybe they don’t quite give you what you need from a pet. Perhaps you should try a different critter.

I’m not asking that you question you’re current pet, or replace it, just open your mind from those “Top 5” animals we choose to be our companions. Now I pretty much had it figured, as a child I had them all – Bluey the budgie; Coco the cat (she had kittens); Rusty and then Rags the dogs; Silky the rabbit; Swish the fish – and I thought rabbits were the best.

A young Dale Peece-Kelly with his rabbit SilkyThe cat was ace; the budgie I could take or leave; I was never a dog person; the fish was intriguing and vaguely surreal (a bulbous eyed black moor) and inspired a poem or two; but the rabbit really did it for me!! Bullied as a child, I told my rabbit everything, confided in him, cried with him – he did not judge, he loved me (even licking my nose), everything was unconditional and positive. Awesome, but was this rabbit really my perfect pet?

30 years later on and I’m an animal man with a myriad of animals – I’ve discovered exotic animals! First snakes, then lizards, then spiders... since starting my business, I have tortoises, hedgehogs, axolotls, frogs, stick insects, turtles, and many more animals, even a skunk! When you open your mind to the animals available as pets these days, we really should give it due consideration and not just plump for the usual. Yes you can love all of these animals – you get attached, form a bond, they show the same unconditional affection (my boa constrictor blows in my ear, to show her affection).

With raccoons, coatimundis, skinny pigs (one of Dr. Dan’s favourites), raccoon dogs, armadillos and all manner of animal now available for purchase as pets, the options really are endless. Most of these exotic animals, however, are not for the faint hearted or beginners – they take a lot of work and need a lot of attention. When you take the time to research them though, you may find your perfect pet, and you may find out that it is something you are willing to devote your time to – believe me, it really is worth it when you find the one!

I found Stoosh – my skunk and my perfect pet – after a long search and much research. One of the questions I am asked most frequently is: “If you could only keep one of your animals which would you choose?” A tough question indeed, but I say every time and without hesitation: “STOOSH!”

I love all of my animals, totally, and would do ANYTHING for any one of them, but if I had to choose, I would take Stoosh – she really is the best pet for me. Why not my cat of 8 years? The snake I have seen grow from a hatchling into a 6 foot adolescent (she’s about 50% grown)? The tortoise that will be with me until my dying day? The dog I rescued from the street?

It’s a combination of things. First of all I waited two years for Stoosh (who is currently asleep on my lap!) -  I spent that time researching the animal, meeting breeders, talking to owners, meeting the owners and their skunks etc. In this time I heard so many horror stories and bad experiences, I got really nervous. My research culminated, in a trip to Becketts Farm (near Redditch), and the Exotic Pet Awareness Day (in 2013 it is on August 3rd), organised by the amazing Ken Williams.

This is where I met Jasmine – a skunk, who had misbehaved all night for her owners, but the moment I held her, she fell asleep and I fell in love! Seriously... her owner took her back but a few hours later they returned with Jasmine and gave her back to me, she had done nothing but continue to misbehave – the minute I had her back, she was peaceful!

The second thing is the nature of the skunk – clean, without odour, litter trained, fun, mischievous (but not annoyingly so), interesting and fascinating, affectionate, loyal, friendly, clever  – just a beautiful and lovely animal with a REAL but beautiful personality. The combination of these factors is what makes the skunk the perfect pet... for ME.

I love the fact that the minute I sit down, she’s on my lap or round my shoulders. I love how she gently nibbles me for a fuss. I love the way she drags towels and washing under the cupboards to make a den, a safe place (she feels comfortable enough to do that, she feels home) where she can sleep peacefully and dream skunky dreams. I love that when I go to sleep, she nestles under my pillow and sleeps, she wants to be THAT close, because she loves me that much. I love everything about her, and would not change a thing – nothing about her niggles me or annoys me, I could happily cohabit with this animal for the rest of my life and need no further company, and I KNOW I would be loved and that I would smile every single day. That’s what makes her my perfect critter.

I have seen from my pet therapy work and firmly believe that everyone has their own individual therapy animal – pets are therapy for their owners, it may be subliminal, but they are, and therefore everyone has their own individual perfect pet, it may just be that you have not yet found yours. Next time you are looking for a pet, look outside of those “standard” pets and look at everything that’s available.

Do your research – especially if it’s an obscure animal – meet the animal in a home environment, talk to the owners and breeders and ask every single question that you have on your mind (if they are good breeders, they will be only too happy to show you and tell you). Once you find your pet, the ONE, you will never look back, I promise.

Dr Daniel Allen’s book “Animal Obsessions : True Stories From A Pet-Loving Nation” – will be available in 2013. In the meantime, you can follow his exploits in “Pet Nation”, his regular feature in Small Furry Pets Magazine.

Critterish Allsorts undertake animal assisted therapy sessions, with their critters (who are all family pets), on an individual or group basis in your home, hospital, care home, foster home, or school. Visit their website for more information.

This blog is written by Dale Preece-Kelly from Critterish Allsorts, if you would like to find out more about them check out our previous article 'Meet the Critterish Allsorts'.
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