Revisiting rehoming - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Revisiting rehoming

“It is important to acknowledge that while people can also suffer when making the mistake of acquiring certain pets, it is the animals themselves that will continue to bear the greatest consequences”

By far, dogs and cats make up the vast majority of abandoned, rescued and rehomed animals, which is unsurprising given that they comprise about 80 percent of all pets – excluding ornamental aquarium fishes.

In 2022, the RSPCA took in over 30,000 dogs, cats and rabbits; exotics were also a significant feature of such bad pet acquisitions. Recently, a series of high-profile animal abandonments included several deceased Aldabra giant tortoises and various pythons being dumped on the roadsides and elsewhere, depicting the blatantly contemptuous behaviour of some exotic animal breeders, sellers and keepers. But such actions also draw attention to an underlying wider problem pervading the trade and hobby surrounding captive – perhaps especially wild – animals.

Pet mistakes and bigger pet mistakes

Arguably, it is one thing for a novice to be hoodwinked into buying a bearded dragon or a corn snake from a pet store, believing it will be easy to keep and enjoy a good life while terminally imprisoned in a new world the size of a TV set – a far cry from the expansive and complex existence to which it is adapted. However, does anyone truly think that a 150 to 225kg tortoise – let alone several! – is going to be anything but extremely difficult to accommodate?

Does anyone truly think that a 150 to 225kg tortoise – let alone several! – is going to be anything but extremely difficult to accommodate?

Yet, baby giant tortoises are frequently sold and put up for sale by dealers in the UK and through events such as reptile markets or “expos” across Europe and the United States. What kind of future awaits these animals, aside from being tossed into woodland either already dead or bound to die?

Plainly, casting out one’s dead giant pets is not so easy, in that at least some may well get found – albeit too late. However, dumping unwanted diminutives – whether living or sadly succumbed – is as easy as a short drive to a quiet release site, digging a small hole in the garden, a quick drop into a rubbish bin or a flush of the toilet – none of which will likely ever be identified or decried by the media.

Some rescued animals may need rescuing

Understandably, the services of animal rehoming and rescue centres or sanctuaries are limited and often fully stretched. Also, as of right now, these centres are not formally regulated, thus standards vary, and widely so. Some are probably inarguably operated using the best of motives and husbandry. Others may be a mere front for hobbyists to add to their collection or some form of front for trade entities.

It is important to acknowledge that while people can also suffer when making the mistake of acquiring certain pets, it is the animals themselves that will continue to bear the greatest consequences

Even the most well-meaning caretakers may bite off more than they can chew just to give that one extra animal a better chance in life, yet inadvertently confine it so that, basically, the same animal now needs rescuing again. It is important to acknowledge that while people can also suffer when making the mistake of acquiring certain pets, it is the animals themselves that will continue to bear the greatest consequences.

A costly business

Cautionary notes aside, the running costs for any rescue centre are predictably high, probably more so where thermally demanding reptiles are concerned. Heating, lighting and veterinary bills, among others, can be astounding and, certainly, enduring – so is it really any wonder that such establishments, in whatever form, ask for money on rehoming?

Heating, lighting and veterinary bills, among others, can be astounding and, certainly, enduring – so is it really any wonder that such establishments, in whatever form, ask for money on rehoming?

But all such centres have their work cut out for them, as pet breeders and sellers of domestic and exotic types alike continuously supply the market with new arrivals – appealingly packaged and, at least in many cases, set to commence a new cycle of anthropogenic animal vagrancy.

Taxing issue?

Undoubtedly, formal regulation – if objectively and well designed – may make a difference in standard-raising for husbandry and welfare of animals at rescue centres. Likewise, a significant new tax on all pet breeders and sellers could help to fund the care and rehoming of the unwanted many. But ultimately, the problems of rehoming exist in almost all cases due to the dispassion and greed of commercial operators who view profit as their concern and all the rest as someone else’s problem.

The problems of rehoming exist in almost all cases due to the dispassion and greed of commercial operators who view profit as their concern and all the rest as someone else’s problem

Clifford Warwick

Consultant Biologist and Medical Scientist

Clifford Warwick, PGDip (MedSci), PhD, CBiol, CSci, EurProBiol, FRSB, is a biologist and medical scientist. He is author of around 200 scientific articles, books and book chapters on reptile biology, animal welfare and zoonoses.


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