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Should I Set My Pet Free?

Updated on November 4, 2007
Abandoned dog still waits
Abandoned dog still waits

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.


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

Salsberg said.

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.


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  • trakker14 profile image

    trakker14 9 years ago from franklin

    I am sorry  but letting any domestic animal go free is giving it a sure  death sentence.It is a lot nicer to just look up a NO KILL Shelter in the phone book or on the internet, even a rescue situation is a lot more loving. There is a rescue home for every animal out there. How  would you like to have your  family take you out in the woods and set you"free"?

  • RenaSherwood profile image

    RenaSherwood 9 years ago

    My point exactly! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • trakker14 profile image

    trakker14 9 years ago from franklin


  • AthenaRose profile image

    AthenaRose 8 years ago

    Setting animals free is a bad idea in more ways than one. Last month someone dumped 5 dogs at my house. I don't have dogs and don't want dogs. I didn't know what to do. One was so skinny I could see his bones. I was afraid to give them food because I knew they wouldn't leave. I did give them some food and water. My uncle took them to the humane society. They were put to sleep 3 days later. I feel sad that happened but I have the pets I want and did not ask for the dogs. People need to realize that you are putting your responsibility on someone else when you let them loose not to mention some animals canot live on their own.

  • Whitney05 profile image

    Whitney 8 years ago from Georgia

    Have you heard about people releasing cockatiels bc they can carry some bacteria that can be spread to other birds, but the cockatiel itself never show signs of illness. A buddy of mine almost had a solid white $400+ cockatiel turned into him because it was following some guy around the park. The guy ended up keeping it; just got it wormed as a precaution and that's it. Crazy.

  • Happy 1 profile image

    Happy 1 8 years ago from Hawaii

    I agree, I have saved a few baby birds over times...they are so used to the royal treatment (with the best of seeds, warm cages,vitamin and all).

    So I do not think they can survive for long out in the nature, with harsh elements that hey are not used to, for them it is a jungle for them out there.

  • Lady Guinevere profile image

    Debra Allen 8 years ago from West By God

    I had to convince my new neighbor that. He has an English Mastiff---absolutely beautiful and a cutiepie! He thought that he was going to be going away for a while and told us that if he wasn't back then to set his dog free. We had a talk about that!!! He now believes that he should give the dog a new home if that should ever happen.

    I also saved a dog that was left out in the woods here., She was a wienmerainer (sp) a beautiful girl and so precious. I truly wish that I could have taken her in. I really didn't think tht she was going to make it past a day with the shape that she was in. I had to write a report on her and they did take the dog away from the owner. He said that she had something and couldn't take care of her so he left her in the woods. Poor baby--it took the vets three weeks to get all the skin problems to clear up and she was adopted out. I really wanted to keep her but no space. We don't have a fenced yard and we only have out dog on a tether when we are home and I can watch him. Ther's no way that I can put two tethers out there--they would get tangled so much in just an hours time!

  • profile image

    sammie 8 years ago


  • __anton__ profile image

    __anton__ 8 years ago from Palatine, IL

    This is a sad story about the guinea pigs! I think that people need to understand that when they adpt pets they need to care for them for their entire life! If not they should find a no kill shelter for their animal.

  • profile image

    Chinese dwarf hamsters 8 years ago

    Setting pets free actually became popular in 19th century England when world travel was all the rage. Upper class folks would return from excursions to India, Asia, and The Caribbean with "samples" of the local fauna and, not knowing how to keep them properly, would abandon them into the wild. How sad.

  • TeeFree profile image

    TeeFree 7 years ago

    For anyone who considers abandoning their pet: How about being responsible and euthanizing your pet yourself (with a little help from a vet)? Shelters are often very stressful for pets. Freedom most likely means death.

    If the owner is the one making the last decision for their pet, maybe they'll think twice before buying the next one.

  • profile image

    animalsdeservelove 6 years ago

    I took a sweet and beautiful dog to a shelter today that I found in a parking lot. He had a chip and the owner (if you can call him that) said that he surrendered him and that he wasn't coming for him. I want to adopt him but my dog has a back injury and isn't supposed to play with other dogs. I can't believe people do this cowardly shit. Why on earth would you get a dog if you can't take care of it??? Shame on you if you do this sort of thing. This dog is so sweet and innocent. I am going to try to find him a good home. There are so many wonderful animals out there roaming the streets right now because of this kind of irresponsibility and they will most likely parish because they were not bread or raised to be streetwise or find food. It's heart breaking.

  • Lucky Cats profile image

    Kathy 6 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

    RenaSherwood, why haven't I found you before this? This is a WONDERFUL all people should have to read when considering adopting an animal. You are SO RIGHT about the survival instinct being taught to animals; it is not innate. Where I live, there are so many abandoned, neglected animals. Left when the "owners" sell their homes, left to fend for themselves, not spayed or neutered. They roam streets, are hit by cars, abused by bratty kids and adults, starving, subject to the very cold winters or extremely hot summers here...stalked by larger predators..oftentimes, larger dogs left hungry and who have no other options...we, humans, have really dropped the ball when it comes to caring for, having dominion with animals. I am going to follow you; I'd really like you to read some of my hubs; you'll see we are kindred souls. Thank you for a needed article..voted UP, Awesome and Useful!

  • profile image

    CatherineD 6 years ago

    Another reason so many people dump animals is because if they try to leave them at a shelter after hours, they are videotaped and the video is plastered all over the internet; and if they go through proper channels to surrender an animal, they have to go through a mile of red tape and are made to feel like scum for giving up a pet. In the past, people would shoot unwanted dogs -- which was much more humane than dumping them beside the road -- but now, if you shoot a dog and you're found out, you are likely to face "animal cruelty" charges. I'm not a dog lover and, quite frankly, I find it amusing that with all the new laws elevating dogs to near human status, the dog freaks are legislating dogs right out of existence because it won't be long before people are afraid to own a dog!

  • justmesuzanne profile image

    justmesuzanne 6 years ago from Texas

    Good points! Voted up and useful! :)

  • GoingOnline profile image

    GoingOnline 6 years ago

    I'm positive my cats wouldn't be able to survive in the wild. They cannot even hunt a fly without hitting the furniture, and their idea of stalking is walking around in plain daylight and just looking innocent when all teh want is to eat your feet.

  • tlmcgaa70 profile image

    tlmcgaa70 5 years ago from south dakota, usa

    we had a bad year here in south dakota where hay was not to be found here and to buy it elsewhere cost a fortune. suddenly horse owners everywhere decided it was time to sell...only no one wanted to buy. many of the horses were taken up into the hills and released and many more were set loose along the roads of the nearest indian reservation. before they could be rounded up, i imagine many died. we have mountain lions in the hills and on the rez...on the rez we have enough problems with livestock getting on the roads and not only do they get killed...many people have been killed from hitting them. simply releasing pets is not only a death sentence for them...sometimes it is a death sentence for innocent humans as well. there are other ways to find good is pure laziness and coldhearted not to put some effort into it.

  • profile image

    Diane Tedora 5 years ago

    It's not the ANIMAL they want to set free ... they want to free THEMSELVES from the responsibilty they took on. Just 'sounds better' if you turn it around. Many of those animals will starve to death, will run in fear from people trying to save them, while they keep returning to the spot where they last saw their 'person' ... they will wait, literally, forever.

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