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What To Do With Abandoned Pets?


by swordlilly

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Overview of the Situation of Abandoned Pets

On April Fool's Day this year, a "Closed" sign went up on the door of the Neopian Pound. "The Pound is closed until further notice," we read. "We have launched a program to foster out Neopets currently in the system during this transitional period. You may be volunteered to take in some of these Neopets if your username is selected." Random events popped up all around Neopia; families would be walking on the streets, just minding their own business, when suddenly a member of the Pound Council would approach and give them an abandoned Neopet. At the height of the event, some families were being asked to care for ten or more abandoned Neopets.

While it was all revealed to be a prank a few days later, this event did get me thinking about the state of abandoned pets in Neopia. Currently, there are more than 280 million Neopets in Neopia. That's... a lot of Neopets. Estimates of the number of players vary widely, but have not exceeded 11 million.1 Also, according to the ongoing poll question "How many Neopets do you own?", about 58% of the 1.8 million respondents so far stated that they have 0 to 3 Neopets, with the remaining 42% answering 4 or more.2 While the exact numbers are hard to pin down, if we assume that there are 11 million players in Neopia, and that each player owns on average 4 Neopets, we've still only accounted for 44 million Neopets. The vast majority of Neopets ever created remain homeless.

Looking at it from a less abstract angle, I have personally created about 20 Neopets, back when I was trying to zap a Pea Chia, but currently only look after 4. (8, if you include the ones I keep on my old account.) And my record is by no means unique. If you take a quick peek through the Adopt portal in the Neopian Pound, you will find all kinds of ex-Chias with Pea Chia-related names. You will find Lennies and Skeiths hastily created by people going after those avatars. And of course, you will find pets who are what the Pound Chat now calls "badly named." Before there was such a thing as safe transfers, before there were Converted Neopets and Unconverted Neopets, and before pet names had a trading value, there were not so many abandoned Neopets.3

Pet rights activists have written pieces such as All Pets Are Created Equal and The Ethics of 'Dream Pets' critiquing this development in Neopia's history. But no matter how we may feel about it, the fact remains that there are tons and tons of unwanted pets out there. Far more pets in need of love than there are players to care for them.

I wonder if it might be time for a change, to improve the lives of the abandoned pets. Somebody on the Neoboards recently suggested deleting them from the system, and several people agreed with him. While I can see the logic behind that proposed solution, it strikes me as incredibly cruel and tragic. (Though, admittedly, leaving the pets to cry in the Pound for years on end could be considered even more tragic.) But I think there may be a better way; hear me out.

Rethinking Ownership

If you really think about it, ownership is a rather arrogant concept. Most animals in the real world do not "belong" to us humans. Only a very small proportion of all the animal species in the world have ever been domesticated by humans. There are animals who live in forests, in the great depths of the ocean, in volcanic climates and below-freezing climates, who would never ever be comfortable with living in a human's concrete house. "Ownership" of animals in the real world spans the entire range from keeping a dog in a house, to occasionally meeting the neighbourhood stray, to visiting an animal at the zoo, to encountering an animal at a nature reserve, and to watching documentaries about explorations in remote regions of the Earth.

This ambiguity about pet ownership is reflected in the myriad genres on Neopets as well. There is an "anthro" genre where pets are anthropomorphized, or treated as human characters. Most of the Neopets plots, such as the Lost Desert plot, fall into this genre. The pets in these stories don't have owners; they wear clothes, they live in communities, and they basically act like humans. Then there is an "owner-centric" genre which features both owners and pets. Sometimes, the owners take on pet-forms. Sometimes, the pets are anthropomorphized. Other times, the owners are clearly humans and the pets are clearly pets. Regardless, the main characteristic of this genre is that the owners appear in the stories, either as parents, as bosses, or as some sort of guardian figure. Finally there is a "pet-centric" genre, again with varying degrees of anthropomorphism, where owners are not present at all.

I wonder if these complexities surrounding the idea of pet ownership could be more accurately reflected in Neopia. Why does a pet have to either belong to someone or be abandoned in the Pound? Why can't a pet freely wander around Neopia like Rohane in NeoQuest II, for example? Why do pets have to depend on owners to feed them and care for them? If I could simply be acquainted with some pets, the way I am acquainted with the neighbourhood strays—seeing them around sometimes, but not actually "owning" them—I am sure I won't mind having a note on my user lookup saying something like "This player is acquainted with Pets 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, who like to wander around Tyrannia." Then those seven pets wouldn't have to sit in the Pound and look so lonely all the time, but on the other hand I wouldn't have to feed them either.

If TNT were to implement a site feature resembling this acquaintanceship model, where players can "meet" rather than "adopt" pets, it would take a lot of the currently existing misery out of Neopia. There would be far fewer pets sitting hungry and crying in the Pound. Instead, the pets would be living on their own, still connected to players, but independent and free.

Concluding Thoughts

I have always been a fan of the Lutari. I like that Lutaris can't be abandoned. They come from the mysterious Lutari Island, which is now covered in a storm, and which never stayed in one place anyway.

When you try to send a Lutari to the Pound, s/he will simply swim away. Lutaris are proud creatures. They will live with you if you respectfully ask them to, but if you decide you no longer want them on your account, they will not cry. They were never dependent on you to begin with. They will swim away in search of a new life, never to be "owned" again.

I would keep a Lutari on my account, but I don't consider myself worthy of "owning" one.

Why can't more pets have the adventurous and independent spirit of the Lutari? You'd think that after years of crying in the Pound, they'd have grown up a little and learned to fend for themselves.

The option of living with a new owner should remain open to owner-less pets, of course. But I strongly believe that it shouldn't be their only option. When I visit the Neopian Pound, I don't want to see only "Adopt," "Transfer," and "Abandon." I believe that Neopets are more dignified than that. I want to be able to "Meet" Neopets, to ask them for their acquaintanceship—and no more.

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Footnotes

1. See //www.neopets.com/~floppyhopster#players for a detailed breakdown of numbers. This petpage is slightly outdated; it provides estimates only up to the year 2007, but is one of the more accessible sources I've found.

2. You can view the current poll statistics at //www.neopets.com/add_poll.phtml. A random poll question opens for voting on the Community page after you have answered the Daily Puzzle, so if you have not voted on this question, keep an eye on that page for a chance to do so.

3. Articles about pet-trading include this breakdown of the lingo and conventions of the Pound Chat, this guide to navigating the Pound Chat, and this guide to trading etiquette. Current petpage guides include //www.neopets.com/~ligthspark and //www.neopets.com/~Espresso.

 
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