Wild animals do not make good pets
A couple of months ago, my husband and I took a long drive to a remote truck stop on I-5. The purpose of our trip was to pick up a coyote and transport him back to Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. At the truck stop, we were to look for a green warden patrol pickup. The warden had the coyote in a crate and would help transfer him to our car, which he did, and then we turned around to make the long journey back.
I confess to being more than a little excited to be driving around with a coyote in our car, but, at the same time, my heart was broken for this incredible animal. Obviously fearful, he was curled up in his crate in the back of our station wagon. As he looked at me with his wild amber eyes, I had a hard time keeping my eyes off of him. He was so beautiful.
So, what is the story of this coyote? We all know how cute baby animals are. In my opinion, this is especially true of wild animals. Even after raising orphaned wildlife for so many years, my heart still melts every time I see wild babies. They are so cute that sometimes humans just can’t resist taking them home and trying to make pets out of them. It is against the law in California to have wild animals for pets, but that law doesn’t seem to deter everyone, and some well-meaning people just aren’t aware of it. Someone found this coyote pup, took him home, and raised him with their dogs. By doing so, they robbed him of his birthright – that of being a wild and free animal. They were not doing this coyote any favor. In fact, quite the opposite.
As a pup, the coyote got along with its human family, but as it reached maturity, the hormones started to kick in. These animals are born wild, and that wildness doesn’t go away, just because humans raise it. According to the warden, the coyote and the family dogs got out one night and killed a neighbor’s chickens. Apparently, the dogs were equally guilty, if not more so, but the word got out that there was a coyote around that was killing chickens. Since it is illegal to have a coyote as a pet, the Department of Fish and Wildlife took the coyote away from his human family. He was placed in a local dog shelter until his fate was determined.
Normally, in a situation like the one described above, the animal must be destroyed. It can’t be released back into the wild, as it has no experience being a wild animal. The Department of Fish and Wildlife doesn’t have a zoo, so what to do with animals like this? On rare occasions, the animal, which is considered non-releasable, might be placed as an “educational” animal with a wildlife rescue center. Such is the case for the coyote we picked up. This does not necessarily mean a happy ending for the animal. These animals were born wild, and often are not happy in these situations. Like humans, each animal is an individual, and while some are content to be confined, many are not.
Sadly, the story of this coyote is not an isolated incident. Every year wildlife rescue centers across the state get calls from people saying that they found a baby fox, raccoon, raven, squirrel, whatever, and want to know how to take care of it as they want to keep it. Even when they are told this is illegal, many people still are reluctant to give them up. Each one of these species has special requirements to keep them alive, and unless they are cared for by permitted wildlife rehabilitators, they probably won’t make it. Usually if you explain to people that what they are doing is not only illegal, but is probably dooming the animal, they will bring it in. If not, rescue centers then will have no choice but to get the local DFW warden involved.
I could tell so many stories of wild animal babies found by people who have taken them, often when the mother is close by. These animals usually aren’t orphans. What generally happens then, is a few happy months as the cute little animal starts to grow up, followed by disillusionment as the wildness starts to kick in. Bites, destructive behavior, trying to escape, is only part of what happens. They want their life back! But, because they haven’t been raised by their real parents, they don’t know the survival skills they need to make it in the wild. They don’t know their natural foods, and many of their natural behaviors. When the animals start to become a problem, the humans don’t want them anymore. These animals are doomed. Sometimes wildlife rescue centers will take them and try to “re-wild” them, but most of these attempts fail and the animal has to be euthanized.
The moral of this story is that if you discover young wild creatures, don’t be tempted to kidnap – just quietly observe, enjoy, move on and leave them alone. Mom is probably not far away. If it is obvious that the young are in distress, call your local wildlife rescue organization to get expert help. We are fortunate in that we have wildlife rescue centers in Sonoma, Napa, and Marin Counties.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.