Taking care of a pet of any species is often a long term, intense responsibility and there are so many domesticated animals that live with and depend on humans for day to day life. In this day and age, there are so many animals that are brought to different areas of the world that they’re not native too. Dogs, cats, and many other domesticated animals of all kinds have existed along side humans for thousands of years and there’s a long history of people introducing both domesticated and wild animals to different parts of the world.
There are so many reasons why you might need to rehome a pet but releasing them into the wild is a not a particularly great option. One of the main reasons not to do this is because it’s utterly cruel to the pet. Not all captively bred or domestic pet is going to be able to do well in the wild and if they don’t die, they might deal with a plethora of issues down the road. Rooster, for example, was found on the side of the road with an infected eye that he eventually lost. We don’t know if he was intentionally released to fend for himself but being left in such a way probably played a role in the anxiety he now experiences.
Additionally, any pet that is released and survives has an enormous impact on the wildlife around it, as there’s a chance that these animals can become an invasive species and compete against native animal and plant populations. In addition to competing for resources, released might bring new diseases that native populations haven’t experienced, which could result in those native populations dying from said diseases.
Rabbits on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, for example, have been dying from a rare disease recently and while the cause of the outbreak hasn’t been determined, it’s very possible and likely that the disease started from an infected domesticated rabbit that was released into the wild on the island.
The native turtle species in the Pacific Northwest, as another example, are largely impacted by pet turtles being released into the wild. All these turtles, including the invasive snapping turtle, compete for food, resources, and food and sadly, native species like the Western Pond turtle aren’t always able to keep up.
Released goldfish are one of the best examples as to why you shouldn’t release pets into the wild. Without the confines of a tank and with the right factors, goldfish can grow into very large fish and create all sorts of problems. These fish aren’t native to many places and compete with native species for food.
Poop from goldfish also seem to encourage algal blooms, which cause all sorts of disruptions to the surrounding ecosystem. There are so many stories of folks finding comically large goldfish in bodies of water they shouldn’t be in and places like Alberta, Canada, Lake Tahoe in California, parts of Colorado, and even western Australia have problems with released goldfish.
Domesticated rabbits are yet another example of pets being released into the wild and causing problems. As mentioned, Vancouver Island is dealing with a rare disease that’s killing wild rabbits that likely came from a pet rabbit being released. But there are other places dealing with large populations of feral rabbits that came from domesticated rabbits being released.
One such place is Las Vegas, where there’s a large population of abandoned pet rabbits (and their many offspring). While there are many volunteers and concerned organizations trying to find a solution to a growing rabbit population, there were dozens of these rabbits found poisoned just a few weeks ago.
Deciding to get a pet is a big decision for anyone to make and comes with years of responsibility. While there are so many reasons why you might not be able to keep an animal, I really encourage everyone to do their homework when it comes to how long the pet will be with you and the kind of care that goes into that animal.
I’d also encourage folks to deeply challenge the reasons why you might want an animal. Puppies and kittens are wonderfully adorable but they’ll grow up to be dogs and cats and it’s important to know all the things you’re signing up for when you adopt an animal.
Sometimes though, you do need to rehome your pet and I know that there are so many people that feel intensely guilty or sad for doing so. The best thing you can do for that pet though is to make sure that they have their best chance at another family and work with a local organization to find one. And in the off chance that you do have a more exotic pet that needs a new home, I’d encourage you to work with a local wildlife organization or zoo to find a solution.
While things might change and you might not have the ability to care for a pet, releasing them into the wild can have immense consequences for the pet, the wildlife around you, and the ecosystem. Before releasing an unwanted pet, I’d encourage anyone doing so to look at alternative solutions.