If You Care, Leave Them There

This  baby bunny was born to pet rabbits.
This baby bunny was born to pet rabbits.

Stafford Animal Shelter often gets questions about rescuing wild animals, especially the irresistible – and seemingly helpless – babies. It is certainly heartwarming that so many people are concerned for local wildlife. However, these good intentions are often counterproductive. Often little ones seem to be orphaned but it’s common among many species to hide their babies from predators while the parents search for food. Young animals may appear vulnerable but are actually self-sufficient, rabbits for instance are ready to survive on their own as early as 3 weeks old. A common misnomer is that if you touch an animal it will be rejected by its parent – this is rarely, if ever, true. However, don’t touch wildlife unless they are in immediate danger from dogs, cats, or cars. And if removed from danger, they need to be returned near where they were found to be reunited with their extended families. Tragically, the lives of many young wild creatures are derailed by people taking removing them from the wild in a misguided desired to “save” them.

It’s illegal to have wildlife at home without special permits. Period.

Caring for Wild Animals Is Difficult or Impossible. Appropriate care for wild animals requires considerable expertise, significant funds, specialized facilities, and lifelong dedication to the animals. Each animal’s diet is unique and can’t be met by domestic animal formula or other specialized food even if it is labeled for “wild” animals. Wildlife can die of nutritional deficiency within a few days. Young wildlife who do survive human “assistance” have missed experiences that teach them to fend for themselves. If these animals are released back into the wild, their chances of survival are minimal. Often their resulting attachment to humans compels them to return to places where people live, only to be attacked by domestic animals or hit by cars.

Baby Animals Grow Up. Infant animals can be irresistibly adorable – until the cuddly baby becomes bigger and stronger. The instinctive behavior of an adult animal replaces the dependent behavior of the juvenile and their demands for food commonly manifests as biting, scratching, or destructive behaviors without provocation or warning. They typically become too difficult to manage and are confined to small cages, passed from owner to owner, or disposed of in various ways. There are not enough reputable sanctuaries to properly care for unwanted wild animals.

Wild Animals Spread Disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discourages direct contact with wild animals for a simple reason: they can carry diseases that are dangerous to people, such as rabies, herpes B virus, and Salmonella. Rabies, virtually untreatable when contracted by human, is primarily carried by wildlife. Thousands of people get Salmonella infections each year from contact with reptiles or amphibians, causing the CDC to recommend that these animals be kept out of homes with children under five. A recent outbreak of monkeypox was set in motion when small mammals carrying the disease were imported for the pet trade and infected native prairie dogs, which were sold as pets.

Domestication Takes Thousands of Years. Wild animals are not domesticated simply by being captive born or hand-raised. Dogs and cats have been domesticated by selective breeding for desired traits over thousands of years. These special animal companions depend on humans for food, shelter, veterinary care, and affection. Wild animals, by nature, are self-sufficient and fare best without our interference and their instinctive behaviors make them unsuitable as pets.

Capturing Wild Animals Threatens Their Survival. When wild-caught animals are kept as pets, their suffering often begins with capture – every year millions of birds and reptiles suffer and die on the journey to the pet store. After purchase, their lives are likely to be filled with misery as they languish in cramped backyard cages or circle endlessly in a cat carrier or aquarium. More commonly, they become sick or die because their owners are unable to care for them properly. The global wild pet trade continues to threaten the existence of many species in their native habitats and those returned to the wild can disrupt ecological balances.

Having any animal as a pet means being responsible for providing appropriate and humane care. Where wild animals are concerned, meeting this responsibility is usually impossible. People, animals, and the environment suffer the consequences.