Wildlife: cute, not good pets

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“Mommy, can we keep him?”

Please, don’t do it! Resist the temptation to keep rescued wildlife as pets. There are many good reasons why:

First of all, it’s illegal in many states. If you’re keeping an animal illegally you can’t seek veterinary care if he needs it. If the “pet” you’ve grown to love is discovered, he’ll be confiscated and very likely put to death by the authorities (in some locales, euthanasia is required by law.)

Even if the animal is legal where you are, the vast majority of veterinarians don’t have the knowledge to properly treat a wild animal.

Consider, too, that wild animals don’t want to live with us — it’s against their nature. They haven’t been domesticated for thousands of years, like our dogs and cats. To keep them is equivalent to our finding ourselves in a jail cell for the rest of our lives. Evolution hasn’t mentally conditioned wildlife to a lifetime of confinement. Much as we love little animals we find and earnestly want to take good care of them, with few exceptions we condemn them to a life of misery: No freedom, no others of their kind to associate with, no opportunities for parenting. According to some reports, most “pet” wildlife are dead within two years in spite of the owner’s best efforts.

It’s tempting to think we could just raise them while they’re small, cute and cuddly, and then release them into the wild as adults. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t produce a happy ending. The animals won’t know how to fend for themselves — how to find food, where to take shelter, how to evade predators — so they’re doomed to an early death, sometimes within hours from predators, or slowly from starvation. They need their parents to teach them how to survive out there.

As they grow bigger, wild animals become harder to handle. Helpless babies grow into adults with an instinctive need to be free and to protect themselves. They often emerge from adorable dependency into defensive and potentially dangerous adult behavior, including aggressive biting and destructive behavior. Even little Cottontail bunnies grow into adults who bite, gnaw and kick with tremendous strength — survival behavior designed for the wild, not our homes. This isn’t to say that wild pets are mean — they’re just wild animals behaving as wild animals do, displaying survival behavior that is not adaptable to a home environment.

It’s best to immediately turn a wild animal over to a wildlife rehabilitator, who’ll know how to care for, train and release. Take care not to rescue a wild animal who doesn’t need rescuing: Usually an “orphan’s” parents are nearby waiting for humans to move away. When it’s imperative, here’s how to care for a rescued wild animal, and here’s how to locate a wildlife rehabber in your area.

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