It is illegal and inhumane to release domestic animals into the wild.
Oregon Administrative Rule 167.340
A person commits the crime of animal abandonment if the person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly or with criminal negligence leaves a domesticated animal at a location without providing for that animal's continued care. (Animal abandonment is a Class C Misdemeanor punishable by up to $1,000 fine and/or 30 days in jail.)
Many of the animals commonly seen roaming the urban landscape do not belong there. Some, such as Rock Doves (city pigeons), European Starlings, House Sparrows, nutria, opossum, Fox Squirrels and Eastern Gray Squirrels, are wildlife from other places that have been introduced and become established in Oregon.
Others, such as feral cats and dogs, domestic ducks and geese, peacocks, Red-eared Sliders, snapping turtles, box turtles, chickens, prairie dogs and hedgehogs, are domestic animals that have either escaped from captivity or have been deliberately abandoned.
While most people recognize that it is wrong to release their dogs and cats into the wild, it often comes as a surprise when they learn that it is equally problematic and illegal to release other pets. In fact, many people still deliberately and unwittingly raise animals with the intention of ultimately setting them free.
Although the Wildlife Care Center accepts only native wildlife, each year we are brought hundreds of domestic animals found roaming the urban landscape. Even more often, we receive calls from people looking for "appropriate" locations to release their pets. All too frequently these calls come from schools that have raised domestic animals as a class project and want to get rid of them once summer arrives.
Not only is the dumping of domestic animals illegal, it is also ecologically destructive and inhumane. Many of these animals are ill-equipped for life in the wild. Many of the large domestic ducks and geese left in our urban parks, for example, are flightless and unable to escape predators or withstand the rough and tumble world of breeding season. Those animals that are able to survive often displace native wildlife, destroy valuable habitat, and have the potential to introduce diseases and parasites.
Non-native turtles such as Red-eared Sliders, box turtles and snapping turtles have played a large role in the decline of our two native turtle species, the Western Pond and Western Painted. Today both of our native species are listed as "sensitive."
Extensive dumping of domestic ducks and geese into our urban parks has reduced water quality and led to problems associated with overpopulation that affects both natives and non-natives alike.
Even our own Audubon Society of Portland Nature Sanctuary is frequently visited by families toting no-longer-wanted family pets. Our sanctuary pond is home to a variety of introduced turtles and fish, alas at the direct expense of those creatures for which this sanctuary was created.
The reality for these unwanted pets is an ugly one. Many die miserable deaths in the wild. For some species there are rescue groups, but for many there are not. Many arrive at our doors too debilitated or injured to be restored to health. For others, especially trendy "flash in the pan" pets such as prairie dogs, there are no homes available and they are ultimately destroyed. This is not a reflection of lack of community concern, but rather a direct result of irresponsible pet ownership.
The State of Oregon has developed Wildlife Integrity Rules that ban the importation or sale of exotic species that could pose a threat to native wildlife or their habitats. Many animals known to be harmful, but which were previously sold in Oregon pet stores, are now prohibited. Nonetheless, responsible pet ownership, especially in the urban environment where wildlife habitat is increasingly at a premium, is essential to preserve and protect our native wildlife.
What you can do:
Remember that the acquisition of any domestic pet is a lifetime commitment. If you no longer want your pet, you should either find it a new owner or take it to an appropriate adoption facility.
Discourage your children's school from raising animals in the classroom unless an appropriate permanent home can be identified beforehand.
Keep domestic animals under control.
Before purchasing any exotic pet, check with your local fish and wildlife agency to ensure that this species is allowed to be sold in Oregon.
Inform anyone you see releasing a pet into the wild that this activity is illegal.