My last column dealt with keeping our local wild animals in captivity. I got some very nice response from a number of people, even some that are involved in conservation who applauded the idea of temporary captivity with release in time for preparation for winter. Thank you all that responded.
Among the responses were some surprising comments about the other side of things. Its one thing to take a wild animal into captivity, but quite another to take a domestic animal and release it into the wild. We hear stories all the time about people finding obviously domestic animals roaming wild, from feral dogs and cats to domestic bunnies or rats. Unfortunately, many of these are not accidental escapees.
Sadly, some people think that an appropriate way to deal with a no longer wanted pet is to dump it in the wild, to "set it free". Besides being illegal in many places, this is a horrible idea, and one that will likely lead to the animal dying from being unable to fend for itself, or even worse, becoming prey to a wild animal.
I've heard of a rabbit, abandoned in a park, in its cage. I'm not sure what the people were thinking, maybe they thought someone would find it and take it home (which someone did, thankfully), but had the animal been there overnight, you can bet it would most likely have been torn from the cage and eaten. Not a pleasant way for a family pet to meet its end.
There are plenty of animal rescues that do take in unwanted animals, and if you have a full setup that you want to give with the animal, it is even easier. Other options include social media or on-line selling sites, which can be quite effective when used properly. A great option can be a local school. Many classes, grade school or science, would love to have a resident animal, but most do not have the budget to acquire one. Fundraisers can easily cover the cost of care, but buying the cage and animal can be out of reach of normal bakesale or carwash revenue.
Reptiles, amphibians, insects and fish bring up other concerns when released or disposed of into the wild. Not many can survive our winters, but there are some that may, and can pose an invasive species threat. Many animals are restricted for sale in the province for just that reason. Certain fish and crustaceans could survive, and multiply in our waterways, becoming a threat to local species. Releasing these into our waterways, either directly or even by flushing them, could lead to problems. As well, diseases and parasites they may carry could also prove to be an issue with native species.
One of the most important parts of pet ownership is taking the time to consider the responsibility of that commitment. A fish, hamster or rat might be a few years of commitment, bunny or guinea pig 5-10 years, a reptile, dog or cat 10 to 20 or more. If you don't think that you can provide a caring environment for the animal for its expected lifespan, maybe its not the right animal for you. I'm not talking about emergencies, or unplanned changes in life, but reasonable expectations. If you are planning to move overseas in a year, don't take on an animal that you can't take with you, unless you have a plan for someone to take over the care.
Responsible pet ownership starts with making an informed decision. Take the time and make the effort to ensure that the experience is going to be a positive one for both you and your animal companion. A little time spent up front can make for a lifetime of wonderful moments to follow.