Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=186088
Story Retrieval Date: 12/7/2013 12:01:46 AM CST
Can I keep it?
Staring at a baby owl in a shoebox, I see why people try to illegally keep wild animals as pets. The thought certainly ran through my mind a few times while working closely with volunteers at the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center, Arizona’s state-run wildlife rehabilitation and rescue center in Phoenix.
Today’s society does not promote the notion that wild animals should stay in the wild. The movie “The Hangover” included Mike Tyson’s tiger living temporarily in a hotel bathroom. Tyson actually has a license from the United States Department of Agriculture to keep tigers, something that most people do not know.
According to the USDA licensing process, the minimum requirements for possessing wild felines include a cage and perimeter fence. Licensees are also subject to unannounced inspections by a trained inspector. Non-compliance is rewarded with fines ranging from $500 to more than $20,000.
Large exotic animals, such as tigers and chimpanzees, are not the only animals that are kept as illegal pets.
During my tour at Adobe Mountain, I met two animals that both touched my heart and gave me more understanding of the “Can I keep it?” predicament.
I first met Feli while taking an tour of the facility with one of the volunteers, Mary. She told me that unlike Hunter, the other resident bobcat, Feli was a confiscated animal. She had been kept in a home and her owner had removed some of her teeth as well as her claws. The owner was prosecuted because it is illegal to possess a live bobcat in Arizona.
Feli is a prime example of why wild animals should not be kept, even if they look innocent as a baby. Looking at her, I can see why people would want to try to keep a bobcat as a pet. She resembles a giant house cat – with a shorter tail and a pale coat.
“You look at her and she looks like a fluffy cat you can cuddle with, “ said Sandy Cate, volunteer coordinator at Adobe Mountain. “But there’s no doubt about it. She could kill you if she wanted to. Looks are very deceiving.”
Remember that bobcats are wild animals and can harm humans, especially if provoked. The Arizona Game and Fish Department warns Arizonans if a bobcat attacks a human, it likely will have rabies.
According to the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, the rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain. Death usually occurs within days of the onset of the symptoms. Rabies in humans is preventable with a vaccination, but any animal that bites a human is euthanized.
Feli never bit anyone, but cannot be allowed back into the wild because of her life prior to coming to Adobe Mountain. She also has an aversion to men, some women and people who wear hats. No one at the center knows her history well enough to understand these issues, only that she must be treated with extreme caution.
Working alongside the volunteers one afternoon, I witnessed the importance of turning in an animal to increase its chances of survival. A landscaper removing trees from a client’s house brought in an abandoned baby screech owl one afternoon.
Romero Ramos, the facility’s intern, examined the animal and determined that it wasn’t hurt, but it was severely dehydrated and could not stand up on its own. I helped Ramos administer an IV of saline in the owl’s leg and also helped to feed it a mouse.
The unfortunate truth is that any individual who would have kept the owl more than a day probably would have inadvertently killed it. And if the owl did make it, the owner would face prosecution for illegally keeping a migratory bird.
Will people continue to own pets they shouldn’t? Of course. But the goal of Adobe Mountain is to demonstrate that owning wild animals is not only illegal but harmful. And they aren’t the only ones. There are animal rehabilitation centers all over the country that share the same goal. It’s imperative for potential owners to realize that wild animals should stay in the wild.