Patch Picks: Five Unusual and Legal House Pets

Tired of the cat and dog routine? Want to freak out the neighbors? Here’s five unusual pets that are legal in the state of Pennsylvania.

Pet ownership can be one of the most rewarding of experiences for the animal-lover in all of us. Dogs and cats are generally status-quo, while children often enjoy their hamsters, goldfish or iguanas.

But did you ever consider owning a pet skunk?

In response to the guaranteed-to-be-universal “no,” I say, why not? They’re perfectly legal. In fact, Pennsylvania is a fairly lax state as far as owning unusual pets.

In researching this article, I found a ton of awesomely exotic pet possibilities. In the interest of brevity, I’ve shortened my list to favor some of the unusual, but not so exotic, pets. (If you want to see exotic, check out the kinkajou, or the serval -- both legal in PA!)

What follows are five unusual pets that you can own and have running around your house in no time. Be forewarned; most come with a hefty price tag, and finding a vet that can care for your exotic pet might prove difficult. Each comes with their own quirks and foibles, but are completely trainable.

Disclaimer #1: Laws are always changing. These just happen to be the most current ones. If you find yourself yearning for one of these critters, be sure to do thorough research and talk to experts before making the decision. In other words, don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

Disclaimer #2: I am not responsible if your kids read this list and spend the next zillion waking moments begging for a bizarre pet. But I’ll still apologize ahead of time. Sorry.

1. Pigs are the fourth smartest animal on the planet. They’re also loveable, attention-seeking and as trainable as most dogs. They tend to be very sensitive; you can hurt a pig’s feelings by not giving it the attention it craves.

They can be adorable and cuddly, but remember that as they mature they’re going to get big— pot-bellied pigs grow up to 130 pounds. There’s also aggression to worry about. Pigs can be very territorial and may vie to be “top pig,” by which they’ve been known to charge at guests and even children.

Overall, though, pigs can be very entertaining pets, and their intelligence often shocks people. They have a tendency to form strong bonds with family members. Not me, though. I like bacon too much, as we all know.

2. Skunks are not an animal that most people would consider a pet because of the whole stigma that goes with the stink. But skunks can be descented with a minimal procedure that is considered less painful or intrusive than being fixed or neutered.

Skunks can be owned fairly easily; a permit rider from a credited breeder is all it takes.

On the plus side: skunks can be litter-box trained. With proper handling, they are very docile animals. And their diet is one of the most varied of pets; they can eat eggs, vegetables, fruits and grains, which can be a nice reprieve on the cost of specialized pet food.

On the down side: skunks, if not nurtured, can become aggressive. They’re also very curious animals, which can lead them to pry open cupboards, dig up carpeting, or even climb into machinery.

But seriously, have you ever seen a baby skunk? Adorable.

3. Sugar Gliders are odd little animals with huge eyes that only grow to about six inches in length (about a foot if you include the tail). Coolest thing about them? They’re basically small possums that can glide.

Yeah, I said glide.

They have a membrane called a patagium that stretches from their fingers to their toes. When they leap, they glide by stretching the patagium and moving their legs and tail. Get this: they can glide up to 150 meters. That’s longer than a football field!

The bad news is, sugar gliders are considered exotic, which means they’re only legal with a permit from the Pennsylvania Wildlife Commission.

However, these little marsupials bond very well to owners. They need a lot of attention, but if you’ve got the time, you’ve got a furry little friend for life. Which, in their case, can be up to 15 years.

4. Prairie Dogs were banned in 2003 because of the spread of monkeypox among domesticated breeds. However, as of 2008, it is once again legal to own them as pets.

Like the others on this list, this is a pet for those with a lot of time on their hands. Prairie dogs are very social, so they crave attention. They’re also deceptively strong, and if they feel threatened can inflict a deep bite. They’re not the type of pets that can be shared; their territorial instinct can lead them to attack guests.

But with lots of love and chew-toys and a solid cage, prairie dogs can make great pets. They’re hilarious to play with and watch.

Fun fact: although prairie dogs are closely related to squirrels, they’re named thusly because their warning noise sounds similar to a dog’s bark.

5. Coyotes/Foxes/Wolves are all lumped together for a couple of reasons. First of all, they’re all in the canidae family, but also because they fall under the same statute of ownership in Pennsylvania – they are all considered “exotic animals” by the PA Wildlife Commission.

A person can own any of these animals, but must get an exotic animal permit from the PAWC, which means they have to deem you, your home and your family fit for such an animal first.

As far as these animals are concerned, forget the stereotypes about vicious behavior and predatory instincts. These beasts can be tamed just as well as most dogs, when nurtured the correct way. They still will require more attention than the average dog, and probably cost more, but with the right amount of training and respect, they can be pets.

Postscript: All of the animals mentioned here are legal in Pennsylvania with the correct permits from either local government or the Pennsylvania Wildlife Commission. Even so, pets must be legally purchased from an authorized breeder. Never attempt to take wild animals into your home.


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