That was something my mother said to me the other day. It is the simple kind of statement that has the power to stop you in your tracks and gets the wheels turning. Smell that? Yeah, that’s wood burning. So I got to thinking about the point my mom was making. In that one statement she said a lot. Just to be sure, I asked her what she meant. She said that having a bearded dragon would have been a welcome addition to our family and a fun learning experience for us kids growing up. She went on to say that they are easy to look after, interactive, and a great pet to help teach a child responsibility. Not to mention that a reptile pet would have been perfect for us living in an apartment as we did back then. Knowing that my parents are quite progressive and are animal lovers, I am positive we would have been the proud owners of a lizard of some kind growing up if they had have been aware of these kinds of pets.
Fast forward a few decades, and here I am devoting large amounts of time to the Canadian reptile community. I own a successful breeding business, vend at expos, and am the Operations Director, Canada for The Reptile Apartment Group. Because of this, and the inherent socio-anthropologist in me, I’ve noticed a distinct change in the demographics of folks attending reptile expos. It is almost like someone threw a switch that opened the floodgates allowing families to flock to reptile expos. What happened to cause this influx of families? Furthermore, what happened in the reptile community that caused families to all of a sudden adopt “exotic” pets as mainstream pet options? I’m going to take a look at some of the factors that I believe shaped the influx of families into our hobby, and by no means is this an exhaustive list. As you read, perhaps you have thoughts of your own. I invite you to share in this discussion by commenting below.
Well, first things first let’s look at technology. In recent years, developments of husbandry tools which allow the “ordinary” family to keep a pet reptile happy and healthy in the family home have become not just available but downright affordable. Nowadays we can keep a reptile pet warm, comfortably secure in natural looking hides, and offer UVB light similar enough to natural sunlight so that Vitamin D synthesis can take place in the reptile’s body. Technology has also brought about the ability to produce reptile feeder items in mass quantities. Today there are many successful companies whose sole mission is to provide your snake with rodents and/or your lizard with crickets and meal worms. All these items are both affordable and easily available to everyone these days.
While on the topic of technology, let’s look at the impact of the Internet on the demographic growth of families owning reptiles. It’s quite simple and makes a lot of sense. A family decides they would like to get a pet. Off to the computer for research! Many common “Pet Information” websites now have “Exotic Pet” pages alongside the more traditional “Dog” and “Cat” pages. Large pet store chains also have entire website sections devoted to reptiles, their care and supplies. Information about keeping reptiles as pets is not only easily accessible via the internet, it exists in such large quantities that even a child can successfully find enough information to successfully convince doubtful parents to buy a pet reptile.
Lastly, let’s look at what it is about today’s families that makes owning a reptile an attractive pet option. With both parents working, many families require a pet that can be left alone all day in the house and not have to worry about coming home to chewed furniture and poop on the floor. And then on top of that they have to take that furry pet out for a walk in the rain? Plus Suzie has hockey practice and Tommy has piano lessons, and slam! Everyone’s out the door again! A dog isn’t an option for a busy family who is away from the home a lot. A cat may not be either. If you live in an apartment in most cases dogs, cats and other furred pets are not permitted regardless of the time you may have to look after it. A reptile on the other hand can have its lights and heat set up on timers so they come on and shut off automatically. Feeding is usually quick and easy, and a snake or lizard does not need a walk. With your reptile snug in its vivarium, moms and dads don’t have to worry about their carpets getting ruined or expensive furniture destroyed. Landlords are usually ok with a secure vivarium pet as well. Please don’t think I have anything against dogs or cats, I own both. I can also devote the time to caring for canine and feline needs. Other families may not, and I applaud the fact that they have the forethought to recognize this and not subject a dog or cat to misery in a home where they may be not taken care of properly.
Another consideration in today’s society is space. Homes and apartments are more compact, and due to budget considerations sometimes a smaller living space is unavoidable for families. Living in a small space doesn’t mean you cannot have a pet. Folks have realized that interesting pets are available that can occupy a relatively small footprint, and still provide the enjoyment of pet ownership. Reptiles such as small geckos and the ever popular corn snake can live happily in a 20gal terrarium, and not break the bank space-wise.
Let’s face it, a snake does not require the level of interaction a border collie does. Yes, snakes and other reptiles do require daily upkeep, but it is not as time consuming as caring for a dog or cat. However, it can be equally rewarding. Seeing your lizard run to the side of its enclosure expecting food when it sees you, or having your snake curl around your hand and allow you to lift her out of her enclosure is just as pleasurable for reptile lovers as receiving a sloppy kiss from a dog is from a dog lover. One last thing to mention when speaking of characteristics common to families today – the dreaded allergies. For reasons I’m not going to get into here more and more folks are suffering from allergies today than ever before. If your child has pet dander allergies, a hairless reptile may be the ideal pet compromise.
So, there you have it, today’s busy families have not just accepted, but have welcomed reptiles into their homes with open arms! Next time you visit a reptile expo, have a good look around at the other visitors. You will be amazed at the number of families with children elbowing their way in to see the latest ball python morphs or baby bearded dragons. Make way for the family!