Last month, when I noticed a sign in a store window, “African dwarf frogs for sale,” I groaned. These little frogs are billed as virtually no-maintenance pets. I have no doubt the inch-long, spotted frogs, which live their entire lives under water and only surface to breathe, are fascinating to watch. As a veterinarian, though, I worry. I worry about the lesson that kids that have them will learn: Animals are for our pleasure. They’re disposable.
I don’t mean to single out African dwarf frogs. I could be talking about tiny turtles in plastic bowls with fake palm trees or iridescent rainbow-colored Siamese fighting fish in desktop glass jars. And I cer-tainly don’t mean to single out any particular business. But dwarf frogs happen to be the popular “low maintenance” pet of the moment.
Let’s think of what’s required to breed, raise and ship these frogs to the stores. What proportion die by the time they make it to the store? And then, once they’re purchased, what percentage die within the first month in the home?
I’d wager that well over 50 percent die between birth and their first month in the home. How can I be so certain? Frogs have particular environmental needs, and most people don’t buy a “low-maintenance” pet with those needs in mind. “Low-maintenance” is a myth. For a dwarf African frog to thrive, a filter and a heater are required. Temperature should be between 75 and 80 degrees. The frogs need an aquarium bigger than a yo-gurt carton. People should never handle the frogs; even soap residues and common bacteria on our hands can make them sick. Don’t use chlorinated water. Provide plants and sterile rocks or driftwood, since these frogs like to hide. I could go on, but this is the point: Keeping these animals healthy and happy takes time and knowledge.
So, before anyone takes home a pet they can observe for a few weeks before it dies, think what the kids will learn. If you think I’m over-reacting, visit the local animal shelter. The many dogs, cats, rabbits and birds there represent a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands that are abandoned each year, most be-cause they were no longer convenient for the owners to keep.
I don’t want to be a spoilsport. Having a son in kindergarten and a network of friends with young kids, I’m especially sensitive to these issues. How do we teach kids to regard all life as sacred? For starters, anyone who wants a pet should be sure it’s one that they have the time, knowledge and resources to care for. Pets offer opportunities to teach kids about caring for others—and let them observe and learn about crea-tures with habits and needs very different from theirs. For more information on caring for African dwarf frogs and other pets, visit PetCo’s online Care Sheets (petco.com). For great advice on pet choices for kids, visit the “Kids and Pets” page on the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals web site (aspca.org).
Parents should let kids know how important they feel it is to treat all animals humanely, even if that means choosing not to have a cute underwater frog as a pet.
The writer, a doctor of veterinary medicine with a master’s degree in public health, lives in JP with his husband and son.