Perhaps we’ve all at one time or another wondered how to dispose of an unwanted pet. Whether it’s a dog, a cat, a rabbit, or a reptile, responsible pet owners investigate responsible disposal methods before acting on their intentions.
Regardless of the reasons for wanting to end a relationship with an animal – illness, moving, less responsibility, etc. – consequences exist not only for the pet but possibly for the environment and its wildlife.
Pets such as rabbits, birds, turtles, and snakes, may end up being released into the wild with the idea that they are being returned to their natural habitat. But not only are these captive animals (and usually captive-bred animals) not prepared to compete in the wild, they may also introduce diseases or parasites that are not compatible with their wild counterparts, as well as contracting diseases or parasites that are not compatible with themselves.
One example is the desert tortoise. According to Arizona Game and Fish Department, “It is not only illegal to release a captive desert tortoise into the wild, doing so is detrimental to wild tortoises because it can spread disease and disrupt uniquely adapted genetics in wild populations.”
As for snakes, who hasn’t heard of the expanding problem of Burmese pythons invading the Florida Everglades? These exotics thrive in this climate and consume vast quantities of native wildlife not accustomed to such a predator. And even if a released snake is thought to be native to the release area, it can likely end up as dinner for another predator since it has probably lost a lot of that wild edge through breeding. Animals that have become accustomed to humans caring for them will have a definite disadvantage over those that have fended for themselves from birth.
“Releasing long-term captives outside their normal range, even if it’s similar habitat,” according to wildlife rehabilitator Melissa Kaplan on her website, http://www.anapsid.org/release.html, “may also prove fatal as many of them fail to learn to feed, hide, and generally survive.”
Occasionally people release dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and other domestic pets thinking, perhaps, that they are doing the right thing by giving them their freedom. However, the wild is a treacherous life even for those critters accustomed to the dangers. A domestic pet in particular is not capable of maintaining a healthy lifestyle as their wild cousins are, and their odds of survival are minimal.
Zoos rarely accept exotic pets because most are common and may already be on display. Even if the animal is needed, zoos must be selective in what they accept, interviewing the owner regarding health of the animal, history of ownership, etc. The risk of introducing disease and/or parasites requires extreme vigilance.
Responsible pet owners would be wise to investigate costs and obligations necessary to raise a pet, whether exotic or domestic, before entering into such a commitment. However, if the need to dispose of a pet arises, the local humane society can often help. For unwanted reptiles, the best option would be to contact a local herpetological society that can assess the health of the animal, treat it, and adopt it to those with experience and expertise required to care for them properly.
Pet ownership is a responsibility as much as raising a child. Critters deserve our attention to their needs before, as well as after, being acquired as pets.