Shelter shares its pet peeves
Many exotic animals adopted by people end up at humane society
Friday, June 3, 2011
If you have an unsuitable pet in your home, like, say, an alligator, you can surrender it to the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, no questions asked and no scolding. Here’s the number: 360-693-4746.
Clark County Animal Control can also collect unsuitable animals — and tell you if it’s possible to get exotic animal licenses for them or not. To reach the agency, call 360-397-2488.
Not a pet?
It’s illegal in Washington to touch or attend to injured wildlife. If you notice a problem and want to help, try these numbers:
Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife: 360-906-0607
Audubon Society: 503-292-6855
Audubon Wildlife Care Center: 503-292-0304.
Not long ago, on one of the back streets of Clark County, an escaped 2.5-foot-long African land tortoise netted its owner a warning for “running at large.”
Call it an unusual penalty for the typically slow-moving creature, but it’s far from the strangest tale told by the folks at Clark County Animal Protection and Control and the Humane Society for Southwest Washington.
“We once had a call for cruelty to a camel,” said Teri Wilson, who’s worked as an animal control officer for the past 15 years. “We went there but it wasn’t cruelty at all. The camel was actually very well taken care of, so there were no problems at all.”
During her time at the agency, she’s also come across people who’ve kept pet bobcats, servals, macaque monkeys and a coatimundi, amongst other hard-to-spell creatures.
Some of the stranger animals require specialized licenses, some are no longer allowed in Washington as pets and a few creatures are absolute nuisances that will get their owners fines or worse penalties if they’re discovered by the authorities.
Rather than facing trouble, Animal Control and the Humane Society encourage the public to learn more about what is, and what is not, a pet.
Officials said they’re happy to take calls from anyone curious about which is which.
Nuisance animal king
The worst on the nuisance list is probably the humble alligator, which, despite falling squarely in the not-a-pet category, crops up more often than you’d think, Wilson said.
“One call, I thought it was a joke at first,” Wilson said. “The alligator was in a trailer park, and the owner had it in the bathtub.”
For the Humane Society, which has to care for the creatures found by Animal Control as part of its contract as the county animal shelter, two to three alligators a year aren’t unusual, said Lisa Feder, director of operations.
They may be sort of interesting when they’re small, but once they grow, their owners learn fairly quickly how dangerous they can be, she said.
“Sometimes owners will come in and surrender them, and sometimes we get escapees,” Feder said.
A few years ago one person who willingly gave up his alligator donated a specialized habitat to the shelter, which the Humane Society now uses to contain and care for the toothy reptiles until some other group, usually with a reptile specialist, can be convinced to take them.
“(The habitat is) on a low table, with a pool inside, a basking area and heat lamps,” Feder said. “We keep it in the back and pull it out in a space back there when we need it.”
Funky little friends
The shelter has also seen its set of less-dangerous bizarre creatures, including a black-throated monitor lizard, pot-bellied pigs, goats, chickens, turkeys, rats and homing pigeons.
“We get banded (homing) pigeons a lot, actually,” Feder said. “There’s a website you can go to and look up the band number on their leg, and through that we’ve found owners who have come to reclaim them.”
The most common animals that come in, besides the usual array of cats and dogs, are rabbits. The general distribution in the shelter at any time is about 60 percent cats, 35 percent dogs, 2 percent rabbits and 3 percent other creatures, Feder added.
But the problem with taking in some of the smaller animals is that the shelter can’t allow public adoptions of them — at least not yet — because it doesn’t have enough specialized habitats or trained staff members to care for them.
Because of that, creatures like rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, domestic birds and chinchillas still have to be sent to shelters in Portland that are better equipped.
That’s going to change by the end of the year, though, Feder said.
The shelter, which two years ago moved to a 5-acre modern facility at 1100 N.E. 192nd Ave., has been training staff and preparing a small animal room so that it can allow the adoptions, Feder said.
“Rabbits can make really great house pets,” Feder said. “You can even box train them. Some of the other small mammals are great pets as well. We’re looking forward to getting our small animal room set up.”
Beware of the wild
Beyond the fuzzy mammals though, there are a lot of creatures that the public really just needs to stay away from, Feder said.
“We do, unfortunately, get people bringing in injured wildlife because people don’t realize that it’s illegal in the state of Washington for a person to care for or house a wild animal,” Feder said. “We can’t accept them. Coyotes, raccoons, squirrels — people need to call the Audubon Society or Fish and Wildlife for those sorts of animals.”
The shelter will, however, take just about any sort of unsuitable pet that comes through the doors — without raising an eyebrow at the person who gives it up, Feder promised.
“They won’t be scolded by us,” Feder said. “We just want the animal out of that situation. We’ll thank them.”
If Animal Control gets called to your house, on the other hand, you could easily face fines and other consequences for having an unlicensed exotic animal, Wilson said.
“Sometimes what people do is they find some baby animal in the wild, then keep it,” Wilson said. “They later find they don’t have the resources to take care of it when it becomes an adult.”
What’s worse is when people become fearful of a wild animal they’ve raised and then they simply let it go in their neighborhoods, she added.
“People can get hurt,” Wilson said. “It’s much harder to capture an animal that’s been let loose. It’s better to surrender it.”
The most common and troublesome animal in that category is probably the raccoon, she added.
“They’re very cute when they’re babies and then they become quite a nuisance,” Wilson said. “I remember a couple once locked a pet raccoon in the bathroom, and it made mincemeat out of everything in there. You find out pretty fast that it’s still a wild animal when it grows up.”
People who aren’t sure about adopting a strange animal can always call the Humane Society or Animal Control to ask what they’re getting themselves into, she added.
“You want to really research the animal you’re going to get,” Wilson said. “And certainly research how big it will be when it’s grown.”