As Mischief was originally founded as a place for people to find special goodies for their small exotic mammals, I have decided to do a series of posts about this subject.
I feel that the following is the best spot to begin. We all have different starts to the passion that is our tiny pocket pets. I myself started off with a Pink Eyed White Fancy rat called Snowy. I got her from the science class at school when I was approximately 12 years old. As the bullied odd bookworm child, she was my best friend and the day she sadly died from heatstroke was a very difficult one for me. Many of my current friends started keeping snakes and then fell in love with the snake food, e.g. the rats. I even have herpetologist friends who absolutely adore their reptiles, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits.
Whichever way you start out is perfectly fine. There is no wrong way to learn what you are passionate about, no matter the hiccups and mistakes along the way.
The problem is that animal communities can be very difficult. They tend to have a purist way of looking at things, absolutely black and white. Right or wrong. For many there is no in between resulting in elitist behaviour and gatekeeping.
If you don't get your fur kid from a specific place you are wrong. If you are not keeping them in the most expensive fashionable cage you are wrong. If you don't keep them the exact way that the person expects you are wrong.
Other than a few bad apples (Lets face it, each hobby and interest has a handful), this comes from the absolute best intentions. When people are passionate about their fur kids they tend to believe that their way is the one and only correct way and that is it.
This, however, creates a very serious problem that most don't think about or understand. When we outright attack people, even with the best intentions, for not doing things our way, or for making a mistake, we scare them off and estrange them. We squash that little ray of happiness that made them go look, I have a thing, look how fluffy and amazing it is, look how happy it makes me.
We have to remember this when it comes to where people get their pets, how they keep them and how they look after them. The end question is are they happy and healthy? Are they loved? Can I give advice in a kind, constructive way?
Remember the hurt you felt the first time you excitedly told someone about your Fancy Rats, or Hamster, your Mice, Chinnie, Degu or Cavy. Only to be met by cruel comments or disapproving looks. Now think how the person coming onto a group feels after they ask for help when buying a little one from someone they should not have, out of pure naivety. The feeling when they are scolded for buying the R750 'budget' cage, because that is all they can afford. For feeding something you disagree with, just because they don't know any better.
The exotic animal communities are all generally socially awkward weirdos. Yes, you too, my friend. Many of us have anxiety, depression or other mental disorders. Our fur kids are our solace and safety. Our source of happiness. Our communities and support structures should be a safe zone.
So be kind with how you phrase things. Think twice before chiding someone just because their opinion differs from yours. Always, absolutely always be supportive. You were in their shoes too, not so long ago.