A hedgehog surrendered at J&R Aquatic Animal Rescue’s Exotic Pet Surrender Events is currently headed to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison. J&R Aquatic Animal Rescue takes in surrendered exotic pets that people can no longer care for, Director of J&R Aquatic Animal Rescue John Moyles said in an email statement to The Badger Herald.
The African Pygmy hedgehog was adopted by the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison and will be trained to become an “Animal Ambassador” to educate people of all ages that visit the zoo and inspire the next generation of animal lovers, according to Moyles.
Surrendered animals are important because they help the zoo’s mission by serving as animal ambassadors, Henry Vilas Zoo General Curator Beth Petersen said.
J&R Aquatic Animal Rescue holds events throughout the year in order to give people options for their unwanted pets other than releasing them into the wild. In Madison, the group works with the Upper Sugar River Watershed Association, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other environmental organizations around the state, Moyles said.
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“We started thinking about different ways to prevent people from letting their pets go,” Moyles said. “I started J&R Aquatic Animal Rescue at the beginning of quarantine and there was very much a need.”
J&R hosts surrender events because pet owners are often left with little resources when they cannot take care of their exotic pets anymore, Moyles said. J&R had to expand to a 2400 square foot adoption center due to high demand for rehoming, Moyles said.
Wisconsin is one of five states in the United States that allows people to own exotic pets, along with Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina. Critics of the state law say that the regulation makes Wisconsin attractive for animal smugglers, according to an article from Wisconsin Watch.
But Moyles said that Wisconsin’s cool climate is less likely to create situations where exotic animals cause environmental issues, unlike what sometimes occurs in places like Florida.
The idea that many exotic pet owners are careless towards their pets is a common misconception, Moyles said.
“People misunderstand the commitment and need that many exotic pets require,” Petersen said. “They need to be planning for the animals’ whole life, not just the few years that they think it will be fun to take care of.”
According to Moyles, the vast majority of issues pet owners run into are with housing the animals.
Often, exotic animals adopted as small pets grow big and need many different requirements that the owner is not prepared for, Moyles said. Many parents want a more unique pet for their kids, rather than a well-known pet such as a dog or a cat. But, most of them do not know how to care for an exotic pet.
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“Thought of as a kids pet, parents will get their kids a turtle, for instance, a turtle lives for 50 years — when the kid moves to college what does the parent do?” Moyles said.
J&R Aquatic Animal Rescue advocates for the surrender of exotic pets that can no longer be taken care of for the safety of the animal and the environment.
The rehomed animals benefit the Henry Vilas Zoo too, through their position as animal ambassadors. Petersen hopes that the ability to see these animals up close and personal will allow people to see that adopting an animal of their own may be more challenging than they had previously thought.
Another issue that exotic animal owners may face is trouble finding veterinary care for their pet, as most veterinarians are not trained to care for exotic pets, Petersen said.
“You can go to almost any vet and they would know almost any of the diseases for dogs and cats, but bring in a hedgehog or an alligator, and they might not even have the tools on hand to treat it”, Petersen said. “Even if you were an excellent pet owner, it could be in jeopardy because you might not be able to find someone to help with the veterinary side.”
J&R Aquatic Animal Rescue is 100% volunteer run and donation run, Moyles said.
The organization waives all adoption fees for accredited zoos and sanctuaries. The animal rescue is taking donations to cover the costs of keeping these surrendered animals at their facilities free of charge, Moyles said in a press release.
The organization held a surrender event March 26 at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Monona in collaboration with organizations like Wisconsin Sugar Glider Sanctuary and Rescue and Reptile Rescue of Wisconsin. The event accepted surrendered fish, invertebrates, reptiles, birds, small mammals and plants with ‘no questions asked,’ according to the event posting. Animals considered ‘domestic pets’ were not accepted at the event.
The organization planned to feature many rescued animal ambassadors at the event to educate and entertain event attendees, the posting said.