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More than just cats and dogs

October 24, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - Visitors entering the lobby of the Humane Society of Washington County may find an albino ferret napping in its cage next to a few guinea pigs, two adult rabbits and some birds.

"We just had four parakeets last week," said Paul Miller, executive director of the Humane Society. "Someone was moving (and) they didn't want to take them with them."

Two already have been adopted and the two remaining parakeets are chirping comfortably in a cage behind the receptionist's desk.

In addition to the many dogs and cats the Humane Society takes in, the shelter took in 126 animals of other types in 2003, and they've already taken in 312 this year.

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Miller said the increase was due to a single case involving the confiscation of 130 color-dyed chicks from a local farm-supply store. Miller said the store's owner didn't realize it was against the law to sell dyed chicks in Washington County.

Miller said a growing number of similar cases are being seen at animal shelters across the country, many involving fad or exotic animals.

"The Internet is making it easier for people to obtain these animals," he said.

Fad animals become popular during the Christmas and Easter holidays, and after the holidays, many unwanted animals begin showing up at area animal shelters.

In recent years, Washington County's shelter has taken in abandoned iguanas, tarantulas, pot-belly pigs and a raccoon.

Julie Draper, the shelter's promotion coordinator, said a pet raccoon named Onix got loose from its owner and wandered onto the property of a neighbor, who called animal control about three months ago. Onyix's owner took the raccoon in as a baby and cared for it for more than 13 years. The raccoon now is living at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Thurmont, Md.

Besides Onix, most of the animals were abandoned or given away by owners who no longer could handle taking care of the animals.

"For instance, people are attracted to peacocks because of their big pretty feathers, but they scream and it sounds like a screaming child," Miller said.

"Iguanas have claws that can scratch you and roosters don't always crow at the crack of dawn. They'll wake you up as early as 3 or 4 in the morning," he said.

Last year, about six iguanas ended up at the shelter, some of which had to be euthanized when they weren't adopted. It costs about $10 per day to keep a dog or a cat, and costs for exotic pets may exceed that amount if they have special needs.

In neighboring Berkeley County, W.Va., someone delivered four raccoons to the Berkeley County Humane Society about four months ago.

"Someone left them in a cat cage and we found them very hungry," said JoAnn Overington, a board member with the Humane Society.

Overington said the facility isn't equipped to keep wild animals. The raccoons were turned over to a local wildlife rescue shelter and are scheduled to be returned to the wild soon, she said.

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