The Medicine River Wildlife Centre is not in the business of rounding up unwanted pets. But since nobody else is doing it, the non-profit near Spruce View is stepping in to prevent animal cruelty and a potential environmental disaster. (Black Press file photo)

The Medicine River Wildlife Centre is not in the business of rounding up unwanted pets. But since nobody else is doing it, the non-profit near Spruce View is stepping in to prevent animal cruelty and a potential environmental disaster. (Black Press file photo)

Pet dumping across Central Alberta could create an environmental disaster, says wildlife centre director

Carol Kelly said releasing unwanted pets is cruel and irresponsible

After trapping 13 released pet rabbits in north Red Deer, Medicine Wildlife Centre’s director is calling this city “a hotbed for pet dumping.”

And the problem isn’t just Red Deer’s.

Medicine River Wildlife Centre’s executive director Carol Kelly has been driving across Central Alberta to rescue dozens of domestic animals this year — including to Rocky Mountain House, Caroline, and Innisfail.

It seems neither animal control nor the humane society is willing to round up unwanted and abandoned pets, so people are calling the wildlife centre about this problem, she said.

“It makes me want to rip my hair out” in frustration that former pets are being left to fend for themselves outdoors, added Kelly, who’s only reluctantly taking on this rescue role, since her non-profit centre near Spruce View is supposed to be looking after injured wildlife.

She feels it’s cruel and irresponsible to purchase an animal and then abandon it outdoors when it becomes too much trouble to look after, or too expensive to euthanize.

Among the centre’s rescues this year are 34 budgies left in a home after its sale near Cereal. Kelly also had to round up a bunch of backyard roosters that were released into a cemetery near Crestomere. (She feels lucky to have found a rooster rescue group that took them.)

“This year has been an unusual year in many ways but it has been the year of the dumped domestic pets. Not sure if this is a result of people getting pets during COVID then not wanting them anymore or what exactly is going on,” said Kelly.

“We have experienced dumped roosters, domestic ducks, budgies, snakes, lizards, the ever-present dumped cat and the most extensive year for dumped bunnies.”

She’s now trying to re-home the pet rabbits that were found on the loose in Glendale, Oriole Park and Highland Green.

“They are very cute. I even took one of them,” said Kelly, who noted long-haired lionhead and angora rabbits are among the rescues, as well as some short-hairs.

She contends that dumping pets is inhumane since these domesticated animals have no street smarts. They often freeze to death, starve or become garden nuisances. Unwanted pets don’t forage in nature for food, like wild rabbits, but dig up people’s gardens. Dumped cats can decimate hundreds of songbirds. As well, all abandoned domesticated animals can draw coyotes and other predators into cities, said Kelly.

Pet dumping can create a potential environmental crisis.

Kelly noted bunnies released into Calgary’s Nose Hill Park have multiplied to the point they are now getting sick and bleeding to death internally. She said hemorrhagic disease can flare up when there are too many rabbits in one area. Kelly hopes this “horrifying” sickness doesn’t jump to the wild rabbit population.

Thousands of former pet bunnies are now roaming Canmore, and some residents of that community have been leaving out food for them and attracting skunks and predators. More wolves and cougars are being drawn to Canmore to eat the rabbits.

Euthanizing cute bunnies has not only been unpopular with Canmore residents but was found ineffective and expensive, costing about $300 to trap and put down each animal.

Kelly is at a loss about what to do about all of the unwanted pets in central Alberta.

She said she would be interested in spearheading a committee made up of municipal, humane society and animal control members to discuss what can be done to resolve the problem.

Amy Fengstad, the City of Red Deer’s parking and licensing supervisor, said she isn’t aware of the recent rabbit problem in north Red Deer, but is concerned that some city residents are leaving their pets to fend for themselves.

The best solution is to rehouse rabbits, dogs, cats or any other domestic animals that are unwanted, instead of leaving them in a harsh environment for which they are not equipped to survive, said Fengstad.

She believes the City of Red Deer would be open to having conversations about this problem. Residents can also provide feedback on a proposed, updated pet bylaw on the city’s website.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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