By Nicholas McCallum - Staff Writer
Society is a fickle-minded beast whose precarious nature helps determine the longevity of trends and fads of a particular time. These temporary flashes of popularity may last the blink of an eye, whereas others linger for a while longer. One of the main driving forces behind such passing fancies has been the movie industry, which for decades has developed franchises spawning massive followings that border on fanatic. But in an age where the rate of consumption has reached staggering levels, making even instant gratification seem too slow, one trend, in particular, has been inadvertently putting certain animals at risk, and that is the proliferation of fad pets.
I'm sure many of us remember growing up being completely enamoured by the cute and cuddly animations dancing and singing across our television screens. There were dozens of Saturday morning cartoons, or movies like The Jungle Book, An American Tail, and The Lion King. To this day, I can still conjure up memories of the jaw-dropping wonderment I experienced when my parents gave me a talking Teddy Ruxpin bear for my birthday. It was like stepping through the wardrobe and into Narnia.
But they didn't go out and buy me a pet bear. And while that may seem like a ridiculous consideration to many, some people don't always employ their best decision-making skills when selecting certain animals as companions.
Earlier this year Pixar's latest blockbuster, Finding Dory, was released, which saw a drastic—though not unexpected—increase in the sale of regal blue tangs (or Dory fish). Wildlife groups were quick to express their concern that due to such high demand, along with being incredibly difficult to breed in captivity, the species could face a crisis of overfishing. Up until quite recently, 100% of blue tangs in tanks had been plucked from the wild, a practice harmful not only to the species itself but the habitats from which they come, namely reefs: naturally symbiotic ecosystems that rely on their existence.
Mind you, this behaviour is nothing new. Sales of clownfish went through the roof after Finding Nemo was released, and the Harry Potter series led to a rise in interest of owls. But it's not only exotic animals that are affected. Movies such as G-Force (guinea pigs), Legally Blonde (chihuahuas), and 101 Dalmatians (obvious?) all featured domesticated animals whose popularity spiked because little Suzy or little Johnny just had to have one. And little Suzy or Johnny get whatever their little hearts desire.
That's today's parenting in a nutshell.
Executive Director of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada (PIJAC Canada), Louis McCann, recognizes the role media and movies play when it comes to influencing the public, “and it's not good or bad, it's just a notice of the fact.” So, although movies do promote impulse buying, it's an issue that is prevalent throughout the pet industry. Just look at those Sunday morning commercials that cycle through images of rescued or abused animals, all caged and looking into the camera with their big, sad eyes. They rely on consumers giving in to their bleeding hearts.
According to McCann, “what's more important is how pet suppliers manage those that want to make an impulse purchase.” Because as he further explained to Out of Wilderness Magazine, “the bottom line is that, in today's market, what you want is a positive pet experience.” The importance should ultimately be placed upon making informed decisions when it comes to owning pets, whether they are exotic or domesticated, and that includes making the decision not to own one.
The PIJAC aims to promote and establish an appropriate and generally accepted standard of care of pets by educating retailers and consumers alike. Many people don't realize the time and energy required to care for an animal, especially ones such as dalmatians or border collies that need vast amounts of exercise. And as a father of two huskies and a tale-less, conniving cat, I can attest to the challenges of pet ownership. They do tend to make life . . . interesting.
McCann admits that getting the proper information out to the public is “a big job, because there are so many influencers out there and there's so much information that's transmitted by different media.” To help further address this issue, McCann spearheaded the creation of the website, habitattitude.ca, which offers information on proper habitats and attitudes toward owning aquatic animals, and the concept of being respectful to the natural ecosystem, since many unwanted species are discarded out into the wild creating potential risks to themselves as well as indigenous wildlife.
Before choosing to purchase and own a fad pet - be it a domestic dog from a breeder or an exotic fish or big cat from a wildlife dealer - consider where the animal has originated from and ask yourself whether you truly need to own the animal and if you’re capable of caring for it. Chances are, the “pet” has come from a long “supply chain” of animals or wild species being exploited for the pet trade.