Wild Animals Do Not Make Good Pets

Living with wildlife

growling bobcat It is against the law to catch and keep wildlife. Almost all native birds and mammals in Oregon are protected by state and federal laws, and it is illegal for you to keep them. These laws exist because wild animals have special needs and it is difficult to keep them healthy and alive in captivity. For example, we had a fox pup turned in to us at the Center by a family that had kept it in capitivity for a while. Due do an inadequately nutritional diet, the fox became blind.

Wild babies have Special Needs

by Melissa Kilgore

two baby foxes A wild baby animal cannot eat the same foods you or your pet eat. It must have special foods. Proper nutrition is essential for normal development and any deficiencies may cost the animal its life. Some animals have to be taught how to find their own food. Others must be socialized with their own kind at the right age to learn survival skills in the wild.

Raising orphaned wild babies is a job for professional rehabilitators who have the training and skills necessary to provide the proper conditions for meeting the orphans' needs.

Wild Animals need to be with their own Kind

A baby wild animal raised to be friendly to people and pets may not know what kind of creature it is, or how to behave with others of its own kind.

A wild baby animal raised by people may be cute but it will grow up to be a wild adult, and may become aggressive and dangerous in captivity. It will not know how to take care of itself when released in the wild and it will not know how to interact with members of its own species. Wariness of people and their pets is important to the survival of all wildlife. Not everyone is friendly toward animals.

Wild Animals carry Diseases that may be Harmful to People and their Pets

Unlike our pets, wild animals are not vaccinated for diseases, or dewormed, nor do they see a veterinarian regularly. Consequently, wild animals may carry infectious diseases and parasites that may be harmful to you or your pets.

Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people. Some of these, such as rabies, can be lethal to humans. Wild animals can carry the same diseases that some of your pets are susceptible to, such as distemper. Make sure your pets' vaccinations are up to date. Wildlife rehabilitators are trained to know the necessary precautions to take when handling wildlife. Do not put yourself at risk by attempting to care for wild animals.

Wild Animals Belong in the Wild

owl Keeping a wild animal in captivity is extremely stressful to the animal. To wild animals, people are the same as predators and are avoided and feared. It is very difficult to provide a wild animal with proper housing conditions that will meet all of its physical and psychological needs.

A hawk that is used to soaring effortlessly through the sky, or a fox that may roam for miles in a day can never be content when confined to a cage. They deserve to be as free and wild as nature intended.

What we have seen at the Chintimini Wildlife Center Regarding Captive Wild Animals

by Cathy Pegau and Kay Sheurer

Not long ago a pair of young cottontail rabbits was brought into CWC. The family that found them had thought that they were very cute, and the seven-year-old son had expressed an interest in keeping them. The CWC volunteer spoke to the mother and children about how it would be better for the rabbits if they were looked after by the Center's staff and then released into their natural environment once they could take care of themselves. The volunteer explained that the rabbits would seem like pets at first because of their dependence on humans. Once they could eat on their own, they would become skittish and nervous around people, even those whom they saw as parents the week before. The mother agreed and said they would consider getting a domestic rabbit from a local pet store.

The word "domestic" implies a situation some people do not understand. You cannot domesticate an animal you find in the wild by bringing it home to live with you. It is possible to raise some species of young animals to be unafraid of people, but this is not domesticating wild animals, it is robbing them of a critical survival trait: fear--of humans and other predators.

cows Humans have bred dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, and other livestock for as long as the last 10,000 to 15,000 years. These animals are carefully bred for specific traits of behavior and appearance to make cohabitation with humans easier. This breeding has removed them considerably from their wild cousins. For example, compare dog and wolf cousins. The typical adult dog behaves, and in some respects looks like a wild wolf's pups.

Dogs are more dependent on and submissive to their human masters just as wolf pups are to their adult wolf caretakers. Physically, dogs have smaller brains and eyes, and many breeds have flopped-over ears that reduce sensory input. A young wolf pup looks much like this. These "bred-for" attributes of our pet dogs require them to turn to us for their protection and daily needs.

Wolf pups, on the other hand, may begin life nearly indistinguishable from dog pups, but they don't remain so. As wild animals grow and reach maturity they may challenge their human caretakers for dominant social positions, challenge other family members, neighbors, delivery persons, friends, and especially children. Wild animals may become unpredictable, aggressive, hurt someone, or mark their territory, whether or not it is your carpet or furniture. Because wolf pets and wolf-dog hybrid pets are unpredictable, humane societies find them to be a liability and will not accept these animals for adoption or placement. The dog/wolf comparison is just one example of how pets differ from their wild ancestors.

So why would anyone want to take an animal from the wild and keep it captive? Ignorance about the perils associated with the wild pets, curiosity about wildlife, love of animals, ego, novelty, or perhaps profits are a few motives we've encountered; however, the most frequent reason people bring wild animals into their homes begins when they rescue orphans and decide to raise them. First, they are ignorant of the law. It is illegal to possess Oregon wildlife without proper state and federal permits. Secondly, people become attached to cuddly babies and find it difficult to give them up. Meanwhile, a young animal may die or develop growth problems due to an improper diet. At this point the wildlife rehabilitator may be called for help.

raccoon family As a captive animal grows independent of its caretakers, it may become aggressive, frustrated or may bite, leading to property destruction or personal injury. It has not had thousands of thousands of years to overcome wild instincts as have domesticated animals. The animal may escape, it may be let go in the wild, or it may be brought to a wildlife rehabilitator. By this time, it may be too late to teach the captive, wild animal survival skills, or social behavior appropriate for its species.

A captured wild animal is essentially a prisoner caught between its instincts and its dependence on humans to survive.

What do you do if you are in possession of an illegally held wild animal?

Give it to the wildlife rehabilitator. Experienced wildlife handlers can determine if the animal can be re-socialized with its own kind and forage for itself. A wild animal that has been raised by humans has not been properly prepared for life in the wild. To release such an animal is almost certainly dooming it to suffer starvation, unnatural predation, accident, unfortunate contact with humans it sees as friendly but who may not be, or make it unable to socialize with members of its own species.

So please, hands off wildlife. No more keeping wild animals in captivity as pets. We've heard many reasons well-meaning people give for wanting to keep wild animals:
  • It's educational for the children.
  • My cat killed the mother and I feel a responsibility for the baby's survival.
  • I love animals and it knows that I'm trying to help it.
  • People are always bringing me animals.
  • It makes me feel important to have something no one else has.
  • It knows I have a special way with animals and won't hurt it.
  • Everyone is getting their own wild animal, it's cool.

None of these people-oriented reasons justify keeping wild animals captive when they are genetically driven to be among their own kind, should be free to act on their instincts, and should maintain a fear of humans to maximize their ability to survive.
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