Pets -- wanted and unwanted -- in the wild

Friday, July 25, 2003

The very notion of catching a 6-foot-long Asian water monitor in an Illinois wheat field is enough to make you wonder if reality has turned into a really bad B movie.

But, as it turns out in so many stories like this, the amphibious lizard was somebody's stray pet. Lizard and owner are happily reunited.

But not all wayward pets return to the care and feeding they usually need to survive. A caiman -- which looks an awfully lot like an alligator or crocodile to untrained Midwestern eyes -- was killed recently after attempts failed to capture it along the Missouri River near Kansas City. It had been set free by some owner, as was the case in the 1980s with another caiman that showed up in the Lake Lotawana residential community -- also near Kansas City.

Stray pets aren't always so exotic, and they seem to fall into one of two categories: wanted and unwanted.

Countless pets -- of the cat and dog variety, mostly -- are deliberately dumped along country roads by owners who don't have the decency to take them to shelters or a vet for proper handling.

However, some pets, like the water monitor, get away from their owners. A lot of animals that fall into the got-away-and-we-want-you-back category seem to be snakes, but we'll leave that issue to someone else.

Owning a pet is a responsibility that is taken seriously by most animal lovers but too frequently ignored by those who consider excess pets to be as disposable as the foam containers from which they slurp their 32-ounce beverages.

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