A Brief History of Popular Culture's Bad Idea Pets

A Brief History of Popular Culture's Bad Idea Pets

A story going around this week about hundreds of Harry Potter fans abandoning the pet owls they foolishly adopted provides us with opportunity to revisit an important lesson: Stop adopting animals because they looked cute in a movie! Just don't do it. Owls, as it turns out, are just the latest animals to be victim to over-eager fans of a pop culture craze. We've assembled a brief history of the pet-flings that went wrong over the years, leading to mass pet abandonment. It's a tragic history, comic only for its revelations into the astounding ignorance mankind exhibits for obvious signs that certain animals wouldn't make a good pet. Raccoons? Really? What were you thinking, Japan?

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Why we wanted them: Harry Potter and his trusty owl, Hedwig! Sure if you had a wand and magical powers, you could almost certainly devise a more efficient system for mail delivery than a nocturnal bird that poops pellets of rodent bones. But this is fiction, and it seemed romantic, and wouldn't it be so fun to have your very own?

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Why we no longer want them: As it turns out -- who saw this coming? -- owls are quite high maintenance. "They are quite costly to look after. Ideally you need a 20ft aviary, and that costs about £900," Pam Toothill, of the Owlcentre in Corwen, North Wales, tells the Daily Mirror. Also they can live for decades! The article tells of owls kept in bedorooms and cages, and eventually released into the wild. 

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What to get instead: Canaries are often recommended as good beginner birds. They're colorful! They sing! They don't get chest infections in the absence of a 20-foot-high aviary! And they die sometime before you do. 

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Why we wanted them: A Japanese anime cartooncalled Rascal the Raccoon, which aired in 1977, about an American boy befriending a raccoon is apparently responsible for the entire raccoon population of Japan. And who could blame the Japanese? The American boy looked happy with his American pet. Import away!

Why we no longer want them: Do you have to ask? They're raccoons! The Japan Times reported in 2004: "Owners, fed up with trying to tame the wild species to be cute little critters like the one in the cartoon, dumped them in the wild -- where, lacking a natural predator -- they have proliferated and are now perceived as pests, occasionally damaging crops and bothering people." Some, though, protested a Japanese law that allowed local governments to hunt and kill them. "Some people feel certain animals are cute, and because of this, argue that they should be spared," Kunio Iwatsuki, a professor at University of the Air, told the paper. Will we never learn?

What to get instead: A cat. Or a ferret. Really anything else. 



Why we wanted them: Teenage mutant ninja turtles! They're heroes in a half-shell! The evil Shredder attacks, these Turtle boys don't cut him no slack! Cool man! The 80s comic book heroes turned early 90s film heroes peaked our interest in actual turtles (and Vanilla Ice.)


Why we no longer want them: The U.S. Geological Survey fact sheet says that adoptions of the red-eared slider peaked "during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle television cartoon craze of the late 1980s-early 1990s." (Love seeing that on a government fact sheet.) They were subsequently released into the wild by unenthused owners, for indeed, small pet turtles we adopted were neither teenage, nor mutant, nor ninja. You could not feed them pizza, and they would not do battle alongside your pet rat. But much more importantly, they carry salmonella and can give it to your child! Also, they live for decades. There is another Ninja Turtles movie coming out next year, but do not let Michael Bay trick you into giving your child a petri dish of salmonella for Christmas.


What to get instead: This writer had several hermit crabs as a child that were just as boring as a turtle, but without the salmonella, which Petco assures hermit crabs do not carry. 



Why we wanted them: Well, if two enterprising Brits could handle 101 of the spotted pups, certainly the rest of us could take on just one. In advance of the live-action adaptation of the Disney film, animal rights activists launched a campaign to warn against adopting them, but, well, everyone was distracted by the cute puppies on screen. They weren't even cartoons. These were real, live dalmatians! What could go wrong?

Why we no longer want them: Dalmatians have their own problems, too. For instance, people "found out they weren't animated stuffed animals but living creatures with needs and problems," the L.A. Times recalls sarcastically. But seriously, The New York Times reported an upsurge in dalmatians abandoned to shelters by their owners, writing, "animal shelters say owners have found the dogs high-strung, willful and aggressive. The dogs also require lots of exercise and in some cases special care because of health problems associated with indiscriminate breeding." We probably should have seen the indiscriminate breeding coming, what with the 101 dalmatians in the film and all. 

What to get instead: The problem here, from the sounds of the New York Times article, is that families weren't ready for any pet at all: "Disney officials said the problem is one of educating the public about the responsibility of pet ownership and extends beyond Dalmatians. The Humane Society says 8 million to 12 million dogs and cats enter shelters each year." So, how about you purchase your kids a DVD of the film?

So there you have it. It turns out that a cartoon can turn even the most obviously undesirable of animals into desirable pets, but hopefully we've learned to resist their charms.Realistically, though, we haven't, so which pets are next? Thankfully, trendy writers like Suzanne Collins and Stephanie Meyer have populated their books with fantastical and terrifying sounding animals. (Tracker jacket adoptions surging? Werewolves? Probably not.) Corgis, however, are experiencing quite the moment thanks to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the hard work of Buzzfeed. We fear that thousands will bring home corgis and discover that, like dalmations before them, they are living, breathing animals and also, they aren't even that great. Poor corgis, you don't deserve us!

[Images via Flickr users]