When we hear about pet homelessness, we often think about the millions of dogs and cats sitting in shelters. Approximately 3.4 million cats and 3.9 million dogs enter shelters every year, and of that number, approximately 2.7 million are euthanized in shelters annually. But dogs and cats aren’t the only animals that find themselves without a family or a place to call home.
Horses, birds, small mammals, and even farm animals can be abandoned or surrendered to shelters, rescues, and sanctuaries. And just like dogs and cats, the reasons for these companions being surrendered or abandoned can vary: Families move and living situations change, people purchase or adopt an animal without thoroughly considering the responsibility involved, and sometimes life circumstances prevent us from being able to care for our animals. No matter the reason, all animals deserve to find loving, permanent homes where they will feel safe and get the care they need.
According to 2007 estimates, over 170,000 horses are considered to be “unwanted” every year, and that number is believed to be much higher now. Some may purchase or adopt horses without fully understanding the responsibility associated with properly caring for them, or they fall on hard times and find themselves unable to afford their care. Other reasons include working or riding horses that have become old, injured or ill — and retired racing horses or those bred for racing, then deemed “unfit” for the job.
When horses are no longer wanted or able to be cared for properly, they are either sold, euthanized, or sent to slaughter. Some may also be taken in by a sanctuary, but sadly there are more homeless horses than spaces available.
Horses can live into their 20s or 30s and caring for them can cost $5,000 a year or more. They require a proper diet including hay and grain, farrier service to keep their hooves healthy, veterinary care, proper exercise in a pasture, and housing to protect them from the elements. The decision to bring a horse into your life is not one that should be taken lightly. It should be thoroughly researched and discussed with other horse owners to makes sure you are ready for the commitment.
Rabbits and Other Small Animals
Rabbits and other small mammals, often known as “pocket pets,” often come into homes as the result of an impulse purchase. These small, cute, and furry pets are especially appealing to children, but when the novelty wears off, these animals often find themselves being given away or dropped off at a shelter.
Contrary to what many believe, rabbits actually require a lot of care. They can live 7-10 years and require regular veterinary checkups, just like a dog or cat. They need a special diet full of greens, as well as exercise to keep them healthy. Keeping a rabbit in a tiny cage all day is inhumane, and if they are kept outdoors they can fall victim to predators, illness, and disease.
Hamsters, Guinea pigs, and similar animals also require a lot of care and can live for 2-3 years, depending on the species. Like rabbits, a proper diet and exercise is important for these tiny creatures, and you should clean their enclosure frequently to prevent illness and disease.
Almost everyone enjoys the sound of birds happily chirping in the morning. There’s something peaceful about watching them eat from a bird feeder or fly from tree to tree. A love of birds might compel some to purchase one as a pet but like any animal, birds require a lot of care — and large birds like parrots can live 40-80 years, making it a huge commitment. Birds often find themselves without a home when they outlive their caregiver, the novelty of having them wears off, or they are no longer able to be cared for.
Wanting to give a homeless bird a loving home is wonderful, but there’s a lot to consider before adopting. Make sure you do plenty of reading and research to make sure you fully understand the species you’ll be adopting. And be prepared for the specialized care and expense that accompanies caring for an exotic animal.
Before You Adopt
Pet stores often carry birds and small mammals, including exotics like hedgehogs — but you should never purchase these animals from a pet store, as they often come from mass breeding facilities similar to puppy and kitten mills. Plus, the purchase of exotics helps fuel the exotic pet trade, which often involves illegal practices of taking animals from the wild and smuggling them across borders for sale. There are rescue organizations for nearly every animal imaginable that can help you find an animal in need and give you proper instruction on how to care for them.
All animals require dedication to make sure they stay happy and healthy, and s it’s always important to think long-term before you bring a new pet into your home. You need to be prepared for whatever happens, and that includes caring for an animal as they age. When you’re ready for a new pet, visit a shelter or sanctuary where you can find a companion that’s the right fit for your home and lifestyle.
If you aren’t ready to adopt just yet, consider providing a foster home for an animal in need. Even horses and farm animals need foster homes to care for them until they are adopted. You can enjoy your time with them while knowing you are doing something to help homeless animals.
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