UW Sea Grant to Host Pet Amnesty Day

April 15, 2014

The idea of releasing a pet you can no longer care for into the wild is often romanticized. The newly released pet is free from the confines of the artificial environment it used to inhabit and is now able to roam the habitats as nature intended. This optimistic view of pet release often leads owners to believe that releasing a pet into the wild is the best and most convenient option for their pet.

However, the end result of pet release is rarely what the original owners envisioned. “I’ve rescued pets from the wild in a wide range of conditions,” says Jamie Kozloski of Kingdom Animalia Exotic Animal Rescue located in Green Bay. “In most instances a lot of work is required to nurse them back to health. Release is rarely in the best interest of a pet’s health.”

While many released pets will struggle to survive in their new habitats, some can start to reproduce and even thrive. These pets have the potential to become invasive species that negatively affect the environment and the economy. Invasive species have a wide range of impacts, including decreasing the productivity of a fishery or reducing the enjoyment of a beach. Aquatic organisms, including fish, plants and crustaceans are especially likely to become invasive when released into the environment.

“In the Lake Winnebago system we have discovered a pacu, an exotic fish native to South American,” says Todd Verboomen, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the East Central Regional Planning Commission. “This species was likely once an aquarium pet and found its way to Lake Winnebago when its owner released it. We hopefully avoided any long-term impacts with this fish, including impacts to the Winnebago fishery, but every release event poses a risk and next time we might not be so lucky.” Other invasive species found in Wisconsin that were likely introduced by aquarium release include the Chinese mystery snail and the common goldfish. The national Habitattitude campaign has been designed to address this emerging invasion pathway.

“The Habitattitude campaign encourages pet owners to not release unwanted pets and instead pursue a number of alternatives to release,” says Tim Campbell, aquatic invasive species outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. Some alternatives to pet release include trading with another pet owner, or working with an animal rescue or retailer to surrender the pet so they can find it a new home. “These options are not only better for the environment, but also better for the pet.” says Campbell.

In order to address the issue of pet release, East Central Regional Planning Commission, Kingdom Animalia Exotic Animal Rescue and UW Sea Grant will host two Pet Amnesty Day – one from 9 am-noon on Saturday, April 12 in Kaukauna and another from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm on Saturday, April 19 in Milwaukee. Community members are encouraged to bring unwanted pets or pets that are restricted under the Wisconsin NR-40 law to the amnesty days where they will be given to Kingdom Animalia. Kingdom Animalia will then work with their network of foster caretakers to find the pets a new home. Aquarium pets, including fish, plants, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, and birds will be accepted. Unfortunately, cats and dogs will not be accepted.
Campbell is confident the event will be a success. “Similar efforts have occurred in Florida and Hawaii where invasive species that were intentionally released have become a large problem. Events like these that utilize local partnerships can help prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species through this invasion pathway.”

Please contact Tim Campbell (608-265-4164) for more information about the amnesty days. The April 12 amnesty day will be held at 1000 Islands Environmental Center (1000 Beauliea Ct) in Kaukauna and the April 19 amnesty day will be held at the Riverside Urban Ecology Center (1500 E Park Place) in Milwaukee.

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