Unloved, neglected, abandoned
Around the world, millions of households are shared with a ‘pet’*. All animals are beings with their own needs, desires and natural instincts.
With so many abandoned animals in desperate need of a home and hundreds of thousands of homeless animals having to be destroyed, it is a tragedy that millions more are purpose-bred or torn from the wild to be sold through the pet trade as commodities.
People often see baby animals in pet shops and decide to buy them on a whim. But they don't realise that the cute puppy might grow into a boisterous dog and the pretty kitten might scratch the furniture.
Too often, impulse buying or being given as an unwanted gift can lead to the dog being left indoors all day on his or her own; the rabbit forgotten in a lonely, cramped hutch; and the goldfish swimming in a bowl of filthy water once the novelty has worn off.
Health, old age or behavioural problems can mean pets become time-consuming and expensive to look after and many are abandoned. This rejection can happen soon after purchase, or even after many years of being someone's ‘beloved’ pet.
Elderly animals who have spent the majority of their life with a human companion suddenly find themselves confined to a cage, lonely and confused, with only a few minutes attention devoted to them by the busy shelter workers. The lucky ones will be adopted by a new carer, but far too many will live out their days at the rescue centre. Hundreds of thousands of healthy animals are euthanased because there is not enough room to keep them all alive.
Animal Health and Welfare Act 2006
The new Animal Health and Welfare Act 2006 places a duty of care on pet owners to ensure that the needs of their animals are met. Failing to take reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of an animal could now lead to a jail sentence. It is more important than ever that people who are thinking of taking on an animal - or already have one - put his or her needs first and foremost.
Under the new law, animals must have adequate room, fresh bedding and shelter from adverse weather. They must be allowed to express their natural behaviour and to interact with other animals where appropriate. Keeping a single rabbit in a dirty hutch at the bottom of the garden, or a rat in a tiny cage with nothing to occupy his bright mind could now lead to a prosecution and jail. The maximum penalty under this Act is a £20,000 fine or a 51-week jail sentence, or both.
If you feel able to offer a permanent and happy home to an animal, please visit a sanctuary rather than a pet shop or breeder. Animal sanctuaries, unlike most pet shops, offer sound advice about an animal’s needs and wants. They know each animal individually and are able to match the right animal to the right home. They may offer follow-up visits to make sure all is well. Sanctuaries take care of animals who have been dumped or abused, and do not add to the problem of over-breeding by creating more.
If you would like advice about taking on an animal, or want to know where your nearest rescue centre is, contact Kelly.
If you believe an animal is living in an unsuitable environment, report the problem to the RSPCA. Call 0870 5555 999. Your anonymity will be respected.
Too many being born
Pet shops often sell incorrectly sexed animals. This results in litters being born when new owners put together animals that they have been told are of the same sex. A great many pet owners deliberately let their animals breed because 'it's natural for them to have one litter', or because the animal in question 'would make such a lovely mum'. Cats and dogs who aren't spayed or neutered wander the streets procreating. But with so many animals already in need of a home, why create more? When homes aren't found, baby animals are often left on the doorsteps of shelters. Litters of puppies have been found dumped in cardboard boxes on rubbish tips and kittens thrown into rivers in bags.
Breeders produce pedigree animals to supply the market for ‘designer’ pets. People may want their pet to look a certain way but they are frequently unprepared for the health and welfare problems that these animals bring with them. Persian cats and pug dogs, for example, are bred to look 'cute' but their squashed faces can cause sinus and breathing problems and weeping eyes. Bulldogs, bred to look butch and stocky, also have respiratory problems and can't run properly because their legs are too short. Through genetic selection, breeders have even created cats with mini legs (so that they can't scratch the furniture... but neither can they run properly) and cats with floppy backbones (making them nice and cuddly but unable to jump). In fact, scientists have found that inherited weaknesses - causing breathing difficulties, heart problems and lameness - can be found in ALL types of pedigree dogs. Certain breeds of dog traditionally used to have their tails cut off, purely for cosmetic reasons. Happily, vets increasingly refuse to perform this mutilation.
Most breeders treat their animals like baby machines, forcing them to have litter after money-making litter. When the breeding animals are too old or stop having enough babies, they may be killed. Runts of the litter who don't make the grade, or those surplus to demand, are frequently disposed of by drowning, or some other distressing method.
The killing trade in ‘exotic’ animals
‘Exotic’ animals, including primates, reptiles, ornamental fish and birds such as toucans, parrots and finches, are not suited to life in captivity. Conditions inside a tank or cage, no matter how hard the owner tries, will only ever be a poor substitute for the animal’s natural environment. It is impossible to recreate the habitat in which reptiles live, nor the varied landscape across which they would roam in the wild. Snakes and lizards will often climb and tap at the glass walls of their tanks, unable to understand why they can't get out. No amount of rocks, fake scenery and heat control will be able to mimic a turtle or terrapin's natural environment. US pet industry data shows that most captive reptiles die within the first year.
Many of the 'exotic' animals on sale in pet shops and markets will have been trapped in the wild using methods that result in a high mortality rate. Capturing wild animals not only causes immense suffering, it destroys natural ecologies and habitats and has the potential to put the survival of some species at risk. Many will die during transport to foreign destinations. There is now a ban on importing wild-caught birds, although trapped birds are still sold as 'captive-bred'. Birds who are caught in the wild, having known what it is to soar through the skies, have their wings clipped to prevent them from escaping. In the wild, parrots can live to be 50 but in captivity most will die from disease, stress or injury within their first year. Other birds begin and end their lives in captivity and will never know what it is to be truly free. No matter how big the cage or for how long the bird may occasionally be let out, it is cruel to imprison these intelligent flock animals and deny them their most basic desire: the freedom to spread their wings and fly.
An ever-increasing 'product' range
Alarmingly, an increasing range of wild animal species are being sold as pets. Mongooses, ferrets, hedgehogs, wallabies, red squirrels and monkeys are being kept inside people's homes. The animals are kept in unnatural and unsuitable conditions. They are denied the ability to exercise their basic needs, and buyers are typically given little or no advice about how to care for these animals. When abandoned, sanctuaries rarely have the expertise or accommodation available to care for them properly.
Following Animal Aid’s hard hitting campaign, the UK-wide chain of DIY shops, Focus, ended the sale of all animals, including reptiles, exotic birds and fish.
Don't breed and buy while abandoned animals die!
Even if you feel sorry for an animal in a pet shop window, you will not help the situation by buying him or her, because the pet shop will just buy in replacements. If you do want to bring an animal into your home, adopt one from a shelter.
If you are determined to have a particular 'type' of animal then contact the relevant rescues for that breed - don't go to a breeder. Never buy animals as presents, even if they are initially wanted. The novelty can, and often does, wear off and the animal may be abandoned.
*For simplicity’s sake we have used the words ‘pet’ and ‘owner’. We prefer the words ‘companion animal’ and ‘carer’. People shouldn’t ‘own’ pets, but in reality they are allowed to buy and sell them as commodities.