“Non-traditional companion animal” should replace “exotic pet”

This is about the use of words and particularly the description of a certain group of animals; in this case, companion animals which are non-traditional and which are often described as ‘exotic pets’.

It has taken a while for the British Small Animal Veterinary Association in the UK to get around to advising the citizens of the UK that the word “pet” is not ideal. Anybody involved in the animal world has been saying that for a very long time. The word “pet” is very commonly used. It’s very easy to say. It trips off the tongue. The news media use the word all the time. However, it is slightly derogatory and disrespectful of our companion animals.

Exotic pet -  fennec fox.

Exotic pet – fennec fox. Photo: in public domain.

It conjures up a picture of superiority of the human over the inferior companion animal, whose role is to decorate the home and entertain their masters. It is an old-fashioned, outmoded and out-of-date word. The description ‘companion animal’ or ‘animal companion’ is far better. Or you might use “domestic cat companion”. Or simply “cat companion”. The same would apply to dogs.

Also, the word “exotic” is unhelpful, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association argue, because it conjures up an invasive species (non-native species). For that reason, it is “problematic” they say. That’s because non-native species are often decried by many people. They have an image of being damaging to the environment.

The Australian government are the greatest disseminators of this concept when they consistently state that the feral cat on its continent is non-native and a massive killer of native marsupials and mammals.

There is, however, quite a strong argument for doing away with the idea of native and non-native species. It is a rather artificial concept bearing in mind that many non-native species have been in countries for hundreds of years. When does a non-native species become native? Can they ever be accepted by that country?

For the sake of clarity, a non-native species is one which has been brought to a country by humans and which does not originate in that country through evolution.

One person who thinks that the word “pet” is acceptable is Lee Monks of the Plain English Campaign. He told the Daily Mail that “exotic pet” was perfectly acceptable to him. And he believes that the word “pet” is not derogatory. The man is out of touch. He may know his English but he doesn’t know his animals.

Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA, has said, probably on numerous occasions, that animal owners should use the word “animal companion” as it shows more respect. She agrees with me that using the word pet “reduces a sentient being with a personality and emotions to an inanimate object – a possession to be used in any way the owner wishes”.

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