Should I Set My Pet Free?
The statistics are grim. Millions of pets that are turned into animal shelters across the country are put to sleep because there are no homes available. With more and more animals being abandoned every day, most animal shelters keep an animal for only three days before they are put down. The Humane Society of the United States reports that between 6-8 million dogs and cats are left at shelters each year. From that vast population, less than half will be adopted. The remaining 3-4 million will have to be put to sleep. And that's just dogs and cats. There are no numbers for all of the other pets and livestock that are continually abandoned every day.
These animals include purebreds, mongrels, seniors, newborn, dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, chinchillas, livestock and just about anything and everything else classified as a pet. Because they are animals and because their chances of finding another home are so grim, some people just set their pets loose if they will no longer care for them.
Let Them Go Free?
The argument goes that animals will live as nature intended because they have instincts. Animals have survived in the wild for millions of years before man came along, so what's the big deal? Cue up "Born Free" on the stereo and just let ‘em go. At least they have a fighting chance than in a shelter.
This argument is completely and totally flawed. All mammals and birds are born just like children are - their minds are a blank slate. They need to learn how to survive in the wild if they are to survive in the wild. They learn from a process called imprinting, where the babies will fixate on the first large object they see. 99% of the time, this large object turns out to be their mothers. They then learn how to survive by immitating their mothers.
But if they and their mothers have always only known homes and cages, then they will know of no other way to live. They have never had any need to hunt or forage before and they will not know how to. No amount of instinct will make up for a lost animal survival education. Fido will not suddenly metamorphose into White Fang and immediately know how to hunt, dig a burrow or find drinkable water. Fido will most likely try to find you and die trying. Many animals have had the wild instincts purposefully bred out of them, such as domestic cattle, toy dogs, guinea pigs and even dwarf rabbits.
A Case Example
This is a true story. I'm quoting directly from the website More Idiots On Parade that copied this from Reuters, but this story was also reported on CNN and The New York Times.
GUINEA PIGS SET LOOSE IN CENTRAL PARK
Tuesday March 24 5:04 PM EST
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man released as many as 50 guinea pigs
in Central Park for still unknown reasons and 10 of them may have
perished in the snow or been killed by birds that prey on small
animals, officials said Tuesday.
Park rangers rescued 33 of the guinea pigs after park attendants
saw a man releasing between 40 and 50 from a cage Thursday night,
raising fears they could be carrying diseases that might be passed on
to people or other animals.
"We have been searching for three days but most likely because of
the snow, unfortunately the rest may have frozen to death," New
York City Department of Parks and Recreation spokesman Corey
Freezing rain and snow fell over the weekend in New York, with five
inches snow recorded in the park Sunday. The search for the guinea
pigs would continue however, the spokesman said.
He said the guinea pigs, small furry animals indigenous to South
America, could have been killed by hawks, ospreys, owls and other
birds of prey who eat rodents.
"In Central Park in New York City they are not suited to survive in
the environment," Salsberg said. "They are imported here all the
time as pets or for laboratory experiments so they are domesticated.
They haven't lived in the wild for about 100 years, even in South
No one has been arrested for releasing the guinea pigs, considered
a crime under laws governing the control of animals in the public
park. A $1,000 reward has been posted for the capture and convic-
tion of the man.
Park officials believe it may have been the work of a pet shop
owner trying to get rid of the animals or an animal-rights activist
who took them from a laboratory.
Salsberg said the rescued guinea pigs had been checked for
diseases and appeared to be in good health. The City Center for
Animal Care and Control was looking for homes for them.
The missing guinea pigs were never found.
If You Can't Commit, Don't Even Try!
Animals depend on you as a child would depend on you. You are their mother-substitute. Imagine a small child being dumped in the middle of the woods and left to fend for themselves. That is the equivalent of dumping a domesticated animal or bird in a park, wood, or by the side of a road. A pet is not a throw away item. A pet is the best part of you. Please, if you can't keep a pet with you through thick and thin, don't even get one.
And if an absolute catastrophe happens (say, of Hurricane Katrina type proportions) then don't just turn the pet loose. Go online, ask your vet, phone an animal shelter and ask them if they know of any breed or species specific no-kill shelters to place a healthy pet. If worse comes to worse, being put to sleep is a quicker and less painless and scary death than being abandoned, cold, starving and confused.