Daily Herald opinion: When considering a pet, consider its suitability and your ability to care for it

Every so often we’ll publish a story about an exotic pet on the loose that leaves us all wondering what the owners of such a pet were thinking.

The latest story started just over a month ago in Vernon Hills with police on the lookout for a bobcat. That was the initial call police received. Turns out it was a serval cat, which is native to Africa, resembles a cheetah and is about four or five times the size of your average house cat.

Vernon Hills police searched for it for about three hours that night thinking it could be a danger to the people living in the Grosse Pointe neighborhood.

One look was all Sgt. Courtney Blaul needed. “When I saw this animal, I was absolutely intimidated by it,” Blaul said in a report. “It was very large and it had very long fangs and it was hissing at us.”

The cat had gotten out of the yard when the homeowners were away. Police say it chased and cornered a resident walking a dog. No harm came to the walker or the dog, and the owners, who had been out looking, too, corralled it. The cat has since died.

This kind of animal, simply put, is not suitable for suburban living. Snakes, turtles, tarantulas are exotic alternatives, but they’re kept to cages indoors and unlikely to run around the neighborhood. Serval cats, as cuddly as their owners say they can be, are born to run. They can be aggressive around strangers. This one could have hurt someone. It’s fortunate that police did not have to put it down.

Illinois law precludes the sale, trading or breeding of such exotic cats in the state, but says nothing of owning one. Clearly that is not the case in North Dakota, where you can buy a wide variety of large exotic cats online - servals, ocelots, caracals, lynxes and other species you’ve probably never heard of. And, yes, they ship.

The episode has Vernon Hills Police Chief Patrick Kreis asking the village board to revise the local ordinance to make it tougher to keep a wild animal.

Rules regarding dog breeds are an altogether different subject. In the case of animals a litter or two removed from the African Plains, it’s clear the suburbs is not a suitable home.

While we’re on the subject of pet ownership, Christmas is the time of year when people tend to adopt or buy puppies and kittens as gifts. Starting in January, as sure as the calendar changes, animal shelters see an uptick in the number of cats and dogs relinquished to them. Shelters across the country are filled with animals. And more are coming in than going out.

Pets are not disposable. Pet ownership is a serious undertaking. They should never be an impulse purchase. Choosing a pet should take some planning and negotiation as well as a lifetime commitment to the care and feeding of the animal.

Anything less and you should not be a pet owner.

“Every holiday is like this,” said Isabelle “Lee” Linklater, executive director of Assisi Animal Foundation near Crystal Lake. “Many people think of it as a box of Fannie Mae, but it’s a lifetime responsibility.”

So if you’re moved to invite an animal into your home, think things through. You’ll both be the happier for it.

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