I have a thing for rodents. I've owned seven pet rats over the years (although none at the moment) and around 2010 I had the good fortune to discover a blogging capybara named Caplin Rous. Caplin's owners/pets, a couple named Melanie and Rick, live on what appears to be a farm outside of a place called Buda, TX with a wide variety of animals. Exotic or rare pets are difficult to keep for a number of reasons, but their setup was perfect. They have the two things a capy needs – a pool and a lot of land – and the devotion to their animals to make sure that all of their needs are met. Unfortunately it turns out that some plants that are harmless to "normal" American animals are toxic to a South American native rodent and Caplin died too early. That's one of the downsides to exotic pets – many lessons have to be learned the hard way.

Melanie was heartbroken, as any pet owner understands, but shortly after Caplin's death she was contacted by an exotic animal breeder with some distressing news. A capy had been adopted by an owner who was neglecting him – would Melanie take him in? And that's how Garibaldi (Gari) became her new pet. To make a long story short, I have a hard time communicating how much pleasure I've gotten since that moment from following Gari's antics on the blog. Melanie is a very funny writer, which just adds to the entertainment value of the hundreds of pictures, tales, and videos of Gari that I could rely on to cheer me up.


The problem was that in the first year of his life, Gari was mistreated. His first owner did not actively abuse him, but she was almost criminally ignorant of how to care for him. He was kept in a small apartment, rarely let outside, and fed dry dog food. Capys need a ton of sunlight and vegetable matter to remain healthy. The bottom line is that when Melanie met Gari, he had scurvy (with that nice vitamin C-free diet), vitamin D deficiency, and weak, brittle bones from lack of calcium. He was also extremely underweight. After a few months with his new family, though, he had been nursed back to health.

Well, he was nursed back to…as healthy as he could be. There's no way to "fix" brittle bones, and one by one Gari's teeth started rotting out of his mouth. The teeth weren't very strong, so they would slowly develop infections which spread down to his jaw. He was constantly back to the veterinary hospital to be put through oral surgery and rounds of antibiotics that can be fatal to rodents. After all that, he eventually succumbed to the inevitable and his infections spread to his kidneys, which failed.


Essentially this guy – who brought a lot of joy to a lot of people beyond his family – was killed by the ignorance of his first owner. And that's where I'm going with all of this. I can't stand seeing people adopt pets, particularly of the "exotic" variety, without having a clue how to care for them. They see something on Buzzfeed and decide they want a cat or dog or reticulated python or bobcat or capybara so they rush out and buy one. Then they have revelations like, "It turns out that pythons are 15 feet long as adults" or "Gee, this 150 pound rodent eats about $20 of food per day" and they end up releasing the animal or slowly killing it through negligence. It's sad and it's cruel.

Don't do that. An hour of internet research by someone who wanted a capybara could have added five years to his life, and he would have brought a lot of people (myself included) a lot of happiness over that time.

32 thoughts on “NPF: LOOK, THEN LEAP”

  • I recently watched The Elephant in the Living Room which is about the tragic consequences of this subject. It's quite good though terribly heart breaking.

    Not to give too much away because it is very much worth watching, but the main story line involves a man suffering from various physical and mental conditions that was given a lion cub by a family member in the hopes it would help with his depression. Quite obviously he's not able to care for it much past the 3-4 month stage and it is tragic what not only to the lions go through, but him as well. Seeing a full-grown male and female lion pair living in a horse trailer is one of the saddest things I've seen. Unfortunately that's not even the saddest thing in the documentary.

  • The one smart thing Gari's former owner did was find a new home for him.

    I have two cats, both adopted from the local animal shelter. One was found roaming the streets, the other brought there by a family who could no longer keep her. Both are happy and much loved, but my former street cat has significant health problems from his time fending for himself. (He is very comfortable around humans and had been neutered, so we know he had a home at one time.) I don't know how he came to be on the streets or if it was his previous owner's fault, but I worry that it may reduce the length and quality of his life.

    All of which is to say, there is no shame in deciding you can't cope and putting your pet up for adoption. It is a lot better than keeping a miserable and unhealthy pet, or worse yet, abandoning one.

    (Also, I know there are very good reasons why I shouldn't, but it would still be really cool if I could get a bobcat one day.)

  • Some people simply shouldn't have animals. Unfortunately, right now we have this libertarian "I can do what I wanna, and you can't tell me what to do!" mindset to deal with. I volunteer at an animal shelter, and believe me, we get this all the time. We're not even that strict with our adoption standards, and we still get people who resent that we're asking them about their history with animals, their home situation (own or rent, fenced yard, where would a litter box go, etc.), and whether their current animals are spayed and neutered. I actually had somebody ask me why her current animals would need to be spayed or neutered before she could adopt one of our animals, and I told her it was a demonstration of responsible pet ownership. She hung up on me. On the other side of it is the people who want to dump their animals, and it's not just because they've lost their jobs. We had a call from one woman who said she wanted to get rid of her cat because she'd just gotten a new set of furniture and the cat didn't match it. I didn't take that call, but I did take the call from the woman who said she wanted to get rid of her 9 year old Schnauzer because she and her husband had decided to start doing a lot of traveling and they wouldn't have time for the dog anymore. I read an article like this one complaining that shelter employees and volunteers seem to be incredibly misanthropic. I'd like to tell that dude to spend some time volunteering at a shelter. Even if all he did was sit on his butt at the front desk answering the phone, he'd eventually start hating people too.

  • @Sarah: Very true. I am glad shelters are there for cases like the two you mentioned, because I suspect the alternative for that cat and dog was being abandoned by the side of the road somewhere.

    My local shelter has an animal behaviourist on staff, to advise people who are having difficulty with their newly adopted pets. I get the impression he has to put up with some truly amazing stupidity.

  • @Sarah: Very true. I am glad shelters are there for cases like the two you mentioned, because I suspect the alternative for that cat and dog was being abandoned by the side of the road somewhere.

    Unfortunately, we can't take all the animals that walk through the door (seriously, we run over the capacity generally recommended by veterinarians and experienced shelter managers all the time). The philosophy of the woman who was managing at that time was that she didn't want to encourage irresponsibility by giving these people an "out" to assuage their feelings for having abandoned their companion animals. She wanted to rescue (that is to say, go to animal control, where the euthanasia rate is over 50%), and take a limited number of strays. Owners like that, who were finding that animals were inconvenient for them, ought to bring those animals down to animal control (with the sign that says "we euthanize animals" posted prominently out front), drop them off there, and feel like the assholes that they are. (But yes, the reality is that they more than likely got dumped, if not on the side of the road, then onto the hands of a friend or relative who got guilt-tripped into taking them.)

    My local shelter has an animal behaviourist on staff, to advise people who are having difficulty with their newly adopted pets. I get the impression he has to put up with some truly amazing stupidity.

    We do the same with our volunteers and employees, but we don't have the money to pay somebody with specific training in that area. So our volunteers and employees all become adoption counselors who learn by the seat of their pants and what they are able to read from books and the internet.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    This reminds me of the moron who kept a wolf in his one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, and was killed and eaten by the wolf.

    And there are countless stories of owners who keep deadly snakes, only to be bitten or choked to death.

    Only get a pet you know you can handle and take care of properly. They are living things, too.

  • @Sarah: Yes, all shelters are overfilled, especially in these recession-hit times. What I really meant was, I'm glad there are *facilities* for people who get rid of their pets, including animal control. Euthanizing a healthy pet because you can't be bothered to look after it is revolting, but it's still better than just abandoning one.

    And to be fair to the Cracked writer you linked to, he does admit shelter workers have a hard time: "I'm sure there's some merit in their hesitation to trust humans. When you work in a shelter, I imagine you see some pretty horrible things that humans do to animals…"

    I think he's trying, in a not entirely successful way, to satirise the entitled "me, me, me" attitude of many pet owners.

  • A good friend of mine has a mini ranch (90 acres) in what used to be wide open countryside but is now encroached upon by the city sprawl. I find it heartening that he has had little to no problem with dumped dogs and cats. We do have good shelter systems.

    As a side note, there's some problems with deer since there's too much city for rifle hunting. There's nothing but road kill to hold down their population and he is the center of what remains of open land. I've seen as many as 27 deer working their way across his pasture. He had to build a wall around his garden. A simple fence wasn't enough. We "joke" that if it wasn't for road kill he'd have to elbow the deer out of the way to get to his mailbox.

  • Yes, it's true. Some people should just not have animals. I'd love to have a polar bear cub or a tiger cub, but I'm not stupid enough to think I could take care of 'em or avoid getting eaten when they get bigger. Plus, in my state it is illegal to own wildlife. And pets aren't even allowed in our building. Still, a girl can dream and watch lots of wildlife documentaries.

  • I have long been grateful that neither of our sons insisted on having pets. I'm not a pet person myself, and don't really understand the impulse to have a smallish non-human sharing your living space. I have occasionally fantasized about getting a shelter cat when both boys leave home, ideally a black cat I'd name Snowball. That's mostly because, from what I've read, black shelter cats rarely get adopted and I'd like to think that I'd saved its life. I realize that's a shallow reason for getting a cat.

  • Robert: as long as you cared for and treated "Snowball" well, it wouldn't really matter what your ultimate reason was for adopting the cat. However, you would then be sharing your living space with a smallish non-human.

    Me? I don't understand the impulse to share a living space with a human. They are FAR more annoying than pets. Even when the pet has destroyed your nice leather chair, all you can do is shrug because, well, they don't know that's a nice leather chair. The human who destroys the nice leather chair knows very well it's a nice leather chair–they just don't care.

  • I'd like to have a sea otter, but (a) I don't live in the sea, and (b) they're not really that cuddly despite their appearance.

  • Ugh, we've got a neighbor that claims to be an animal lover, but really isn't anything more than an animal collector. In the double wide trailer they live in are three adult humans, plus 4-5 small-to-mid-sized dogs, 2-3 cats, birds, and rodents. Their 20'x20' back yard is attached to our front yard and their idea of "exercising" their dogs used to be shoving them outside and leaving them there. When we first moved in we had to suffer through 2-3 hours of dogs barking at us, until we called animal control. Their cats leave half-eaten birds and mice in our yard. And this is in a trailer park with a limit of 2 dogs or cats.

    Some people shouldn't be allowed to own animals.

  • Nobody should be able to "own" any other creature capable of thought, desire, fear, love, etc…. basically any moral agent. "Animals" should be considered in the same light as "humans." They deserve to be left to their own devices.

  • @Sarah: I've fostered for a local rescue group for a quarter-century now. I got my beloved schnauzer when his elderly owner fell, broke her hip, and the dog stood by her for three days until the next-door neighbor realized she hadn't seen the dog or the woman in awhile and went over to check. The woman went to a hospital, then a nursing home, and the woman's adult kids just opened up the door and pushed the dog out into the street. The neighbor took the dog in, but her dog tried to kill this dog, so she contacted the rescue group, who called me up and asked me to take him. The dog lived with me for 12 years; he was in his 20s when he died and he was literally the perfect dog. This dog had zero annoying traits; he was clean, well-trained, loving, and practically never barked. He got along with the rescue cats, rescue bunnies, my young kids, other dogs, and any human he ever met. It infuriates me that those adult children of the owner could abandon their mother's beloved pet into the street when he was absolutely a joy to live with.

  • P.S. Went off on a rant and forgot the point of the post: dogs (and to a slightly lesser extent, cats) are domestic animals with a long, long history of living with people, and so many people mistreat and neglect them. I have no optimism about the numbskulls who get a tiger or an orangutan because they think it's trendy–the average person simply has no idea how to raise a healthy exotic animal.

  • Ugggg, people are stupid. Some just want pets for the bragging rights, not because they really want pets.

    We adopted a dog from our local shelter last year. We have since discovered that many dog owners in our area are completely and disgustingly obsessed with breeds. Sure, breeds have certain characteristics and tendencies and that can be useful to know, but many don't seem to get that animals are individuals. Just because you get a certain breed doesn't guarantee anything about the individual dog. We've also heard lots of negative comments about shelter dogs along the lines of "you just don't know what you're getting". I think this is exactly backwards. We went to the shelter, met lots of dogs, talked to the handlers at the shelter about cat compatibility, and spent time playing with the dog we eventually adopted. She was sweet and playful and really seemed to like us from the start. And we've now got a sweet, playful dog and everyone (including the cats) is pretty happy. We knew exactly what we were getting because we went looking for an individual who would fit into our household rather than a breed. At the same time, I know several people who've had bad experiences with VERY expensive puppies purchased from expensive "responsible" dog breeders. But they all went shopping for the right "breed" rather than looking for an individual animal they might get along with.

  • I remember my brother's white rate being murdered by a neighbor back in the early 70's. He used a croquet mallet.

  • @Andrew: be advised owning a sea otter would bankrupt you in a few short months. Their preferred diet consists of abalone. ;)

  • TomW: "We knew exactly what we were getting because we went looking for an individual who would fit into our household rather than a breed."

    Yes, but you are good people who are realistic about your household. My brother has this fantasy that his family is the ideal suburban family — which is isn't — and therefore wanted a family dog. He got a very high-maintenance dog who is now rather wild and stir-crazy because, in fact, his family doesn't like spending a lot of time together – including him – as a family and no-one has time for the dog.

    But delusions die hard.

  • @Diana; in my neck of the woods, people get either extremely poorly-bred golden retrievers (because they pop up as "perfect pets for the family" and as Tom pointed out, animals aren't clones), or border collies "because they're so smart". Then they proceed to crate the dog for 20 hours a day because who has time to interact with a dog when little Jayden, Kayden, and Slayden have soccer practice followed by football practice followed by baseball practice. Then they wonder why the dog is "wild" and "crazed"–they got a smart, active, people-needy dog and locked it up in a cage alone all day.

  • When I was a boy , one was shot on the Chagrin river in my neighborhood. It was like it came from outer space. They finally identified it , but how did get to Ohio? Turns out some professor brought back from South America and then let it go.That was the fiftys.

  • @Anonymouse: I live in the country now. Do not even get me started on people who live in the city with border collies and kelpies. Talk about animal cruelty. Those breeds need to run and herd and other stimulation. Otherwise they go crazy.

  • I live in an area (rural Northern CA) where many people get border collies and the like as pets, apparently not realizing that they are working dogs and as such, need something to do. Even better, many of the dog owners out here just leave them unpenned, so they mostly stay in the yard, except when they don't (such as when we're walking our dog past their houses). Pepper spray (unfortunately) helps with the ankle-biters, but I'd much rather pepper spray the "owners."

    I encounter plenty of dumb or obnoxious animals out here in the sticks, and I have the same reaction to them as I do with dumb or obnoxious children — as annoying as they are, the behavior is the fault of an inattentive or negligent adult. It is absolutely no surprise that shelter personnel might be somewhat misanthropic; like cops and prison guards, they see people at their absolute worst.

  • "I have long been grateful that neither of our sons insisted on having pets. I'm not a pet person myself, and don't really understand the impulse to have a smallish non-human sharing your living space."

    I have long been grateful that my husband never insisted on having children. I'm not a kid person myself, and don't really understand the impulse to have a smallish human sharing your living space.

    To each his own.

    Too many people who shouldn't have pets have them….and too many people who shouldn't have kids have those as well.

    Knowing that you SHOULDN'T have one or the other is a valuable bit of personal insight, in my opinion.

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