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     Volume 4 Issue 74 | December 9, 2005 |

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Food For Thought

Possessive Pet-owners

Farah Ghuznavi

Some people take pet ownership very seriously. Of course, the ownership and care of animals is not an altogether frivolous matter. It can require time, energy, love and often (if you have had the kind of accident-prone pets that I have sometimes had), a fair bit of money! However, it has been known for people to sometimes take these issues a bit too seriously…

In a number of Western countries, there have been several well-publicised stories about battles over pets. Older couples, whose children have moved out, have sometimes found that their children visit the family home more often to see the pets, than to see their parents! Young couples, on the other hand, have delayed having children because Poochie, Fifi, Cuddles or some such will be "jealous"… And indeed, many families admit that after a baby is born, one of the first concerns is how the family pet will deal with the new arrival i.e. will it feel hostile, abandoned, agitated, and if so, what should be done about it?

But the ultimate example of how seriously people take their pets can be seen in the "custody battles" that are becoming increasingly common between divorcing couples. Older couples, whose children have already left the nest, often feel particularly strongly about this.

But some of the measures adopted in order to win ownership of the pet concerned seem to be somewhat disproportionate. In one case, to determine the pet's "best interests" and "a genuine" preference, the judge involved in the lawsuit decided that the necessary investigations would have to be carried out in a neutral location - in this case, the vet's office. The two owners were placed on opposite sides of the room, and the poor dog placed in the middle, to see which way it would run when called! In this particular case, the dog - though undoubtedly confused by the conflicting orders - went to the wife, much to her husband's chagrin.

But, as always, there are experienced "pet custody" lawyers, who can advise their clients as to how to improve their chances of establishing undisputed ownership of their pet - though it can always be the case that the judge will grant visiting rights (including, horror of horrors, unsupervised visits!) to the other "parent"… In the case of pet dogs, a particularly effective tactic has been to rub sausage on one's hands, prior to arrival at the vet's office or at whatever location the investigation is to be carried out. Because of this, neutral parties present now examine the hands of the two warring factions before the test takes place, as a matter of course!

In another case, where husband and wife were fighting over custody of their parrot, it seemed likely that the parrot would end up with the wife, because prior to moving out of the marital home, she had been responsible for its care and feeding. Her husband however, was not going to take this defeat lying down. Before the inevitable handover of the parrot (as ordered by the judge) the man spent some intensive time teaching the parrot various rude exclamations, before handing it over to his unsuspecting wife…

Some people, of course, just love animals. Too much! Like TV's "Crocodile Hunter", Steve Irwin, the Australian who spends his days racing about in hot pursuit of one ferocious creature after another - snakes and crocodiles being a particular favourite! - and then, crooning to the captured monster, as he strokes its head while it tries to bite him, "You're a beauty, aintcha? Look at the teeth on this baby!"

But if (and this is a big if…!) Steve Irwin can be excused on the grounds that this is at least how he earns his living (and a very good living at that!), it is clear that sometimes you really can love animals too much - as in the case of the Chinese man who recently found a two headed snake, and has decided to keep it as a pet! Yay, how exciting - twice the chance of getting bitten…!

And some people just don't know when to say goodbye gracefully…! A Belgian man had to be hospitalised for burns after trying to cremate his pet dog over a barbecue on the balcony of his flat in Antwerp. Neighbours called the fire brigade after seeing flames shooting from the apartment, and the amateur dermatologist subsequently admitted using too much petrol on the dead pooch…

All this is perhaps not completely inexplicable when viewed in the context where pets have become a substitute for people, in some cases e.g. family, children or friends, particularly for the lonely or abandoned. Extreme though this assertion may seem, there are many people in whose cases it is valid, particularly (though not exclusively) in Western countries.

Another, quite different motivation behind pet ownership is, of course, prestige. For the man or woman who has everything, an attractive or exotic pet may be seen as the finishing touch in glamour. This idea is also not a new one. Most celebrity magazines have a picture or two of some minor starlet or celebrity, who likes to carry around a small dog - usually looking more like a furry rodent! - peering out of her to-die-for chic (albeit often hideous) handbag. Major celebrities, of course, have their own professional "pet carer/manager " (i.e. a glorified dog-walker), to look after the multiple well-groomed, carefully-trained and above all, good-looking pets with whom they can be photographed a couple of times a week…

But probably the greatest cachet comes from those pets which are truly exotic. For example, latest designer pet in New York appears to be the exotic savanna. This not so little bundle of fur weighs 20 lbs or more, and has been produced as a "hybrid" i.e. this is a feline Frankenstein, created by splicing the genes of a short-haired domestic cat with the African serval (how do they come up with these ideas…?)

The end result is a large and elegant animal that looks as if it belongs in the African wilderness rather than the urban jungle of New York. These cats need to be walked regularly (on leashes), and love to jump into bathwater - so watch out if you're not into sharing! They are also commonly seen fetching sticks and chasing balls. All in all, this is clearly a pet that is both elegant and entertaining. Mind you, they don't come cheap - each one can cost anything from $4000 to $15,000!!

Of course, for those who want something even more unusual (or dangerous, or bizarre?) there is always the option of heading down to Florida. Recently, a large alligator - long suspected of lurking around in the area - was captured in downtown Miami by the emergency services. Now, it seems, they are looking for a home for this (presumably sociable) reptile! Enticing though the prospect undoubtedly is, I suspect that most people might prefer to stick to the common domestic canine…

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