What to Do when Your Child Brings Home a Stray Pet and Wants to Keep It
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What to Do when Your Child Brings Home a Stray Pet and Wants to Keep It

What to do when dealing with strays or wildlife brought home by children. Know the facts when it comes to dealing with finding pets. Can we keep pets we find. Can I catch a wild animal and keep it as a pet? What to do when a child brings home a pet they have found? Can my child keep a pet they found as a stray?

If your child has ever brought home an animal, either a wild-caught critter or a stray that followed them home, you have probably been asked this question. Very likely you struggle to find the right answer, or excuse, but did you know there is a legal answer?

Legally, in most areas, you cannot simply keep any wild caught animal, or stray. At least, that is, without following some guidelines. Of course, laws vary from country to country, and area to area, so a person would be best to find out what laws cover their area.

Wild-Caught Animals:  In most areas the law states that wild animals cannot be kept for more than 24 hours; this usually applies to things like insects and fish that children collect. It does not apply to catching wild rabbits and keeping them as pets for 24 hours.  In most areas it is fully illegal to catch any bird or mammal and to contain it as a pet for any length of time.

Their are many concerns when animals are removed from their natural habitats. Many do not survive. Fish especially succumb early, often being kept in children's buckets, they suffocate without oxygen in the still water, or overheat as the water in the bucket warms quickly. All for what? So a child can have a pet for a few hours. These fish, often young fry, are removed forever from the ecosystem. They will not be food for larger fish, nor will they be able to reproduce. We all know that fish stocks are on the decline. Although your child may only be responsible for removing (and killing) a few fish, how many other people's children are doing the same?

Tadpoles and frogs are often collected by kids, who then beg to keep them as pets. Say no! Again the law often applies that these too cannot be kept for more than 24 hours, and really shouldn't be kept even that long.  Chemicals on people's hands can be absorbed by their skin, so they shouldn't be handled. Or think of it this way, some reptiles and more so, amphibians, can spread salmonella to your child. These animals belong in the wild. Teach your children to look, but don't touch, and to keep wild animals where they want to be, in the wild.

In general you should teach children not to handly wildlife, and instruct them that if they find an injured wild animal (such as a baby bird fallen from a nest) to leave it alone and get an adult to help.

Also children should be warned that a wild animal could spread diseases, such as rabies, or worms.  They could bite out of fear.  If you have other pets, wild animals could spread diseases to your pets.  Sometimes these concerns are taken more seriously by children rather than telling them "it is the law". 

Abandoned Wildlife Young

If your child has brought home a baby animal (usually a rabbit) claiming they found it abandoned, they may, or may not, be telling the truth. For one thing, very few mother animals abandon their young, most leave them and will return later. Also, it is a myth that mother animals always abandon their young if it has human scent, so the youngster should be returned immediately, and checked to see that the mother has returned for it.

Again, teach your children that it is not okay to remove a young animal from its safe place; instead alert an adult if they are concerned. An exception would be if the mother was known to be dead, as a case of road kill, again an expert in animal rehabilitation should be contacted because it is illegal to keep any wild animal for more than 24 hours in most areas, without permits to do so. Most people would try to feed an orphaned animal cows milk, which in some cases can make the situation worse.

Read here for specifics on what to do when you think you find an Abandoned Fawn.

Bringing Home Stray Pets

Most cities have laws stating that the finder of a pet must report finding it and cannot keep it outright. Doing so can have you charged with theft should the owner of the animal report it stolen. You are best to find out who handles the stray pets in your town or area. Call them and file a “FOUND PET” report, thus covering you should somebody report their pet missing. In fact, if you have no intention of keeping the pet, you should take it to the shelter so that its owner may recover it. Found pets can be checked at a shelter or veterinarian (generally for free) to see if they have a microchip or other identification such as a tattoo.

If you do wish to keep the pet, be sure to wait a required period of time to ensure no owner is coming forward to claim it. In many cases, as a member of the public, you will be required to wait 2 weeks, however you may want to wait an extra week. After that time you should take the pet to a veterinarian for a health check and vaccination.

Children must be taught that just because they find a pet does not mean they can keep it. They need to be told that somebody has lost the pet and probably is looking for it. If you want a pet there are plenty of legal ways of acquiring them and children should be taught that stealing is wrong.

Related Links

Involving Young Children in Pet Care

What to do when you Find a Stray Pet

What to do when you Find a Pet - Keep it - And the Original Owner wants it Back!

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Comments (2)

great article and advice to parents. I always added the question to my children "What would you want someone to do if you lost a pet? This often lead them to feel comfortable when the pet was claimed as they felt they were really helping someone.

Oh, I just love that there possums on the photo of animals to bring home to mama! LOL! Good read!