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No Starter Pets

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

Have you heard the phrase “Starter Pets?” Each time I hear it, I want to jump out of my skin and shout at the offender. The last time someone used it, my family and I were at a lovely Pocono Mountain resort. My son was playing with a kid his age in the pool, and my husband and I were talking to this boy’s father.

The dad said his kids were bugging him to get a dog, “but I think we will get a cat as a—you know—a starter pet,” he said. My husband immediately shot me a look that said, “Stay calm.” Over the years, he has taught me that you can get through to more people by being rational.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a poker face. If I have a winning hand, you can tell. If my cards are the “fold’em” type, the disappointed look on my face gives it all away.

So I calmly explained to this gentleman that cats have great personalities; that each one is unique; and that they can live a long time. Earl Gray, my cat, is 19. I then told him how comforting it is to be accepted by a cat. I actually consider it an honor. I know many people—too many people—think cats are aloof. Some are, so are some people. So taking the time to get to know a cat and winning a cat over is quite special.
I’ve lived with a handful of cats, and each had his or her own distinct personality.

I was able to dissuade this man. He even apologized for using the term “Starter Pets.” No animal should ever be thought of as a test for the next one. Whether it’s a guinea pig, goldfish, lizard, bird, etc., all pets should be thought of as a part of the family.

A pet hamster can live between 5 and 7 years. For a small child, that is a long time. I know because when I tell my 11-year old that he has to wait a few months for something, he thinks a few months are an eternity. Some parakeets can live up to 15 years. Other birds, like African Grays, can live up to 60+ years. When you are considering adopting a pet, know that you are in it for the long haul.

Goldfish, on average,  live up to 5+ years. The length shouldn’t matter. What matters is the quality we choose to give to that pet. I met one young boy who had a goldfish that he adored. He was 5 years old when his parents gave him the fish. He wanted to take the goldfish with him wherever he went. Thankfully his parents intervened and taught him to be gentle–no rocking motions. This boy developed a strong bond with his goldfish. He gently talked to him, gave him food, and even cleaned his bowl. To him, his goldfish wasn’t a “Starter Pet.”

43 comments to No Starter Pets

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  • GretchenKelley

    I can’t imagine that anyone would think of a cat as a starter pet. Thanks for sharing.

  • Larry

    Starter pets! Damn! I would have “jumped out of my skin” and slapped that person.

  • Georgina

    What a terrible phrase. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  • Marcie

    I have heard parents use the term “Starter Pets” when talking about getting a goldfish, hamster, or guinea pig for their kids. It is wrong. All animals deserve to be treated with respect.

  • Erin

    We have a canary, who is incredibly smart, and needs a lot of attention. I have had some people say, “oh, a bird, how easy.” Most canaries don’t like a lot of noise. Our canary, whose name is Taxi, is 7. Our two kids are quiet around him, and show him a lot of love. They have learned to be gentle around him, and he adores them too. Canaries can live up to 10 years old, and they are not “starter pets.”

  • Ronnie

    Great post Michele. I have 3 cats and they are not starter pets. All are rescues and they are easier than dogs because they don’t have to be walked. But they are incredibly social and need a lot of love and attention. When I travel, I hire a pet sitter to care for them. All animals take a certain amount of work, and as you said, you get so much back from them.

  • Sharon

    Thanks Michele! We had one goldfish that lived to 5 years and he knew us. Every time we would approach his bowl, which is bigger than most (I hate those tiny bowls), he would come near the surface. If friends came by, he ignored them. I think he was one smart fish.

  • Susan

    Cats are not Starter Pets! I would have decked the guy.

  • Roger

    Glad you convinced the guy that cats are not starter pets and that all pets deserve our deep respect.

  • Roger

    The great Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” How true. We need to treat all animals with respect and kindness, not as second class creatures. By helping animals we help ourselves. Thanks for this post.

  • Judy

    I have 5 cats–all rescues. All are treated with a great deal of love, which is equally returned. Thanks Michele.

  • Barbara

    I’m highly allergic to fur. So we have fish and a parakeet. All take work, and have taught our children responsibilities. I think people think of “starter pets” as small animals–like fish, guinea pigs, and birds. Birds need to have their cages cleaned on a daily basis. They need food, water, and most importantly, they need attention. Birds like interaction with people they know. They are incredibly smart and our kids love them. Our parakeet, Pirate, gets lots of love.

  • Linda

    I found a video online about starter pets. the points they made are 1. if you are allergic to a cat or dog, 2. if you work full time and can’t find time to care for a cat or dog, 3. if you travel a lot, 4. if you don’t want the responsibility, and 5., if your kids are bugging you about getting a pet then you should get something small like a guinea pig or hamster or goldfish. What a crock. A guinea pig, hamster and goldfish need care and attention too. I wish these people with the “starter pet” mentality would just do all of us a favor and not get a pet. That is kinder than getting a pet and ignoring it.

  • Richard

    Great post Michele! I have a large aquarium, which is more exciting to watch than most junk on TV. The colors of the fish and their movements are relaxing. I also have two cats and a dog–all rescues and all get good care.

  • Don

    All pets teach kids responsibiities. And all pets need care.

  • I am so proud of your for staying calm. The term “starter pet” is the equivalent of fingernails down a chalkboard for me too. All creatures are individuals with distinct personalities. I agree with Linda, that if you don’t want the responsibility of a pet, simply don’t get one. Great post, as always, Michele.

  • Jane Goodall would be proud of you for staying calm. She teaches us that once anger is allowed to enter the discussion all effort for understanding and compromise cease. The term “starter pet” makes me ~shiver~ Thank you for a great post.

  • Ela

    My cats rule my life, but dogs usually require more attention. If this man was open to owning both a cat and a dog, perhaps his idea was to see if his son could handle feeding the cat, playing with it and changing the litter box, they would then get a dog as well. The key point is that the cat would not be going anywhere and would remain a beloved member of the family.

  • Mark

    Good post Michele. I agree with Joanne. Keeping cool is smart. You get more people to listen when you are not yelling at them.

  • Janice

    A lot of people think of pets as objects. Thankfully, there are a lot of us to set the record straight.

  • Inez

    Thanks Michele. We have a rabbit, and we often hear, “are you planning on getting a dog?” The answer is no. We love dogs, but our heart are with rabbits.

  • Justin

    I grew up on a farm and we had all kind of animals–rabbits, goats, barn cats, dogs, horses, and cows. Each had a distinctive personality, and I really enjoyed being around all of them. They all needed lots of care.

  • sue mcguey

    Great article as usual Michele…..”Starter Pet”!….What a terrible phrase!!!!My belief is that anyone (adult or child) acquiring a “first” pet should take a course in responsibility & caring of said animal, whether it be a goldfish or one that is warm & fuzzy….once they pass, let them take the animal home as an informative “caregiver”!!!!

  • Karen Beliveau

    Terrible phrase, like a Starter Home where one outgrows it and moves to something bigger.
    Hope we won’t hear about Startes Kids . . . . .

  • Karen, I thought the same thing about “starter kids.”–Michele

  • Danuta

    The animal has to live long, it is not a toy.

  • Never heard the term starter pet , Makes me wonder the mindset behind it .
    Odd, So glad you were able to change his perspective .

  • Henriette Matthijssen

    Amen Michele, all lives matter as we treasure our own, it is a gift.

  • I’m glad you caught him in time–and “rationally” called him on his opinion. I’m also glad he understood what you meant, I’m sure we’ve both met our share of people who give you the blank look and honestly don’t understand what you’re talking about.

  • Carol Hupp

    no pet should be called a starter pet!!!! When I take an animal its a lifetime commitment!!!!

  • Patti

    Yes, that phrase should be stricken from the English language.

  • You are right about all cats or dogs have a personality’s of it’s own. The only was someone can really tell is to have more than one or two animals like a Cat o a Dog or even a Horse. Give Love and Receive Love always works!!! “Indian Boy”

  • Carolyn

    Good for you for showing such great restraint! I love how your husband “shot you a look.” My husband would be doing the same had it been me!

  • Kim O

    Starter pets!!!! That makes my hair stand on end!! Animals are not experiments. I can just imagine the life span of pet store hamsters and gerbils too. Not long. Leave the cats and dogs out of it!!

  • Elsie Au

    No animals should be considered as “starter pet”. I am glad you could make that man changed his mind. Even you said that you did not have a “poker face” but I think you did a good job on that :).

  • Hi Carolyn, Yay for our husbands!–Best, Michele

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  • Ginger

    If you take an animal in regardless if you take in a stray off the streets or adopt or however you get this animal, you are making a commitment to love & care for this animal for the rest of his or her life.

  • Cathy

    I admire your work for animals so much, especially against animal experimentation. You handled the man (starter pets) so well and successfully. We are brought up to have low ideas about animals, and education and legislation are a great part of the solution. Thank you.

  • This irks me to no end. I have heard people say the same thing about specific breeds of dogs. The more we educate them, the more we hope to change them… sigh.

  • TR

    I think No Starter Pets Pet News and Views is a well written post and you do a complete job of posting with good details. TJ

  • Jill

    Thank you Michele…its very strange, what people think.