Do You Find Dogs, Cats and Chickens Too Mainstream? Let’s Find the Alt-Pet That’s Right For You.

“I’m looking for an excitable misfit that could help me pull a heist.”

(Elisa Hung)

"I'm a homebody looking for a chonky attention hog."

You want: A miniature pot-bellied pig

Stubborn and self-centered, pot-bellied pigs are like your lazy roommate that throws a kegger whenever you go out of town. For that reason, Patty Hill of the Northwest Miniature Pig Association says an ideal indoor pig owner is a stay-at-home parent or an older person, because a pig lives its best life when its human is home often. "Even if they lie around and sleep a lot, you can't keep them kenneled all day. And they'll get into everything [when you're gone]."  Don't be fooled by the word "mini," either—a full-grown miniature pot-belly weighs anywhere between 120 and 250 pounds. They're very smart and affectionate only when they want to be, but you probably don't want an extra 200 pounds in your bed, anyway.

"I'm looking for a sentient pet rock."

You want: An African pygmy hedgehog.

Spiky on the outside and really, really soft on the inside, hedgehogs, unlike any other pet, don't have any gyrification in their brain, meaning their brain is smooth and leaves them completely unable to learn and form opinions. Nicolette Sprauer, owner of Rose City Hedgehogs, recommends you adopt at 2 or 3 months old because, by 5 months, their brains are fully developed and they can no longer form emotional bonds. If you get one young enough, and hold it for one hour a day, it'll get attached—but it's important to know that once the hedgehog imprints on you it will be detrimental to its mental health if you need to find it a new home. So while they may be low-maintenance, they do come with a long-term commitment.

"I'm looking for an excitable misfit that could help me pull a heist."

You want: A ferret.

Ferrets are extremely smart and sneaky, which makes them as fun as they are challenging. They may bite, but they are also extremely playful and easily trainable—they can even learn to pick locks. Even so, ferrets are unforgiving and definitely not a child's toy. Chris Mathis, director of Oregon Ferret Shelter, says the ideal ferret owners are a "dual-income couple with no children, where the ferrets are their children." At her shelter, she will not adopt a ferret into a family with children under the age of 8. But if you can appreciate their tricks and nips as talent and curiosity, then this is your perfect new partner in crime—perhaps literally.

"I'm looking for a sickly, finicky trophy pet."   

You want: A skunk

With a skunk, you're in it for the look. They come in more shades than just black and white: brown, apricot, even champagne. In temperament, skunks are unpredictable—some are loving, some are mean. Deborah Cipriani, founder of the Skunk Haven shelter in North Ridgeville, Ohio, compares a skunk to a big ferret, which are "just as intelligent but not as playful." All skunks must be bought through a U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved breeder, but the good news is, you don't need to worry about them stinking up your apartment: a domestic skunk's scent gland is removed at 3 to 5 weeks old. They are fairly mellow pets, but they have some serious health issues. Babies are prone to seizures due to calcium deficiencies, and throughout their lives, skunks must maintain a proper diet to prevent bone issues later in life.

"I'm looking for a goth insect that might be outwardly antagonistic toward me."

You want: A tarantula or scorpion

The most low-maintenance of alt-pets and the easiest to find, tarantulas and scorpions are probably the only pets you can buy at a pet store and won't be shunned for. If you're looking for something creepy to balance on your shoulder while you dance at the Lovecraft, you better opt for something less…alive. Holding these creepy crawlers is discouraged, since even a short fall could end in a splat. Yes, both are venomous, but unless you are allergic, their venom is harmless to most humans. Still, be aware that tarantulas may throw their urticating hairs at you and scorpions can deliver a sharp pinch with those nasty claws.

"I'm looking for a squirrel that flies."

You want: A northern flying squirrel.

Sugar gliders, marsupials native to Australia, are becoming increasingly popular in the world of exotic pets. If you're looking for something similar, but maybe more homegrown, the northern flying squirrel, an Oregon native, may be the perfect choice. (Note that you'll need to get a special holding permit from the state to make it legal.) As you might assume, flying squirrels are very active. They need branches to climb and platforms to jump from. Their "flying" is more of a glide, but they do get airborne, so they can't be left to roam your house or the outdoors because they might disappear. But they are affectionate pets that often get so attached they literally hang from your body.

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