Library, Animal Control
Wildlife as Pets
Natural habitat for animals overlaps with suburban sprawl so humans and wild animals come into contact frequently. With the decline in hunting of local wildlife, generations of wild animals have lost their fear of people and are now active during the day. When young tractable animals are found by people, especially infant animals who require care to survive, people often consider keeping keep them as members of their family.
Why it's not a good idea
Most importantly, it's illegal to keep or handle a wild animal in Maryland without a permit. This is mostly to protect people from diseases wild animals transmit including plague, parasites and rabies. It also protects people from injury. Wild animals, even babies, communicate fear and hunger by biting and scratching. Mother animals, who are often nearby and unseen, may cause human injuries when their young are disturbed.
It also protects animals. Captive wild babies may not eat and do not maintain sufficient activity to remain healthy without careful support and appropriate enclosures. Additionally, prey animals panic at the sights and scents of danger. Wild animals living in busy households are in a constant state of fear, especially in homes with domestic pets. Constant stress is harmful to an animal's health.
To complicate matters, wild animals have the ability to hide symptoms of disease so as not to attract attention from predators. Veterinary care for wild animals is difficult to find in an emergency and their needs are very different from dogs, cats or livestock. It may be too stressful to confine the animal at a hospital which also houses dogs and cats. Anesthetizing a panicked wild animal is risky. Some species transmit rabies preventing vets from legally treating them at all.
Finally, wild animals travel extensive territories from acres to miles every day (or night) foraging for food and avoiding predators. Losing the ability to climb, forage and travel can lead to development of abnormal behaviors. A human household contains many dangers from fans to electrical cords. Most households do not have the space or resources to provide the activities to which a species has adapted for centuries. Wild animals can become suddenly aggressive during their mating season, making them impossible to handle safely under any circumstance, especially once they view humans as part of their social group. Unfortunately, they can not always be safely neutered.
What if the animal seems suitable?
Tragically, even for those households which can provide a suitable environment for a wild pet, after a time of reliance on human care, these animals can not be released into the wild. They cannot support themselves, do not get along with other members of their species, and will approach people without fear. Unfortunately, zoos and wildlife rehab centers are not able to accept them, either. These facilities do maintain animals with injuries that prevent their release. However, these animals are able to interact with others of their species and have a calming effect on new captives. Wild animals raised as pets cannot serve this purpose.
Wild/domestic hybrids such as wolf/dog crosses and wild/domestic cat crosses create a special situation. Wolves and wild cats have a low tolerance for constant stimulation from human households. There is no way to predict if a particular wolf/dog puppy or cross-bred kitten will inherit his wild parent's increased sensitivity or his pet parent's domestic tranquility. Within one litter, each baby will have his own physiological mix. How do we predict which puppies must remain with the wolves and which can be kept as pets? Will the kitten inherit the domestic response to a rabies vaccine which makes it effective? If he inherits hunting instincts and can escape any fence, will we build an enclosure fulfilling enough to prevent him developing a habit of incessant pacing or other destructive behavior?
Maryland State Permits
Maryland Department of Natural Resources issues permits to those who rehabilitate baby animals with the plan to release them to the wild. Most relocated animals live an average of two weeks, which is not a humane solution at all. Rehabbers are skilled at preparing wild animals for successful release, sometimes monitoring them afterward for weeks. A Maryland state permit requires registration and continuing education as well as inspection of facilities.
It's never a good idea
For all of the reasons stated, wild animals should not be considered potential pets. Although unusual circumstances exist, and knowledgeable handlers can make this work, it is likely the end result will include injury to people and death to the animal. Wild animals should only be handled by folks with appropriate permits and with the intention of returning them to their wild habitat.
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Frederick, MD 21701