UF Extension Agents Give Advice on Dealing with Unwanted Pets

  • By:
    Mickie Anderson – (352) 273-3566
  • Sources:
    Maia McGuire – mpmcg@ufl.edu, (386) 437-7464
    Eleanor Foerste – efoerste@ufl.edu, (321) 697-3000

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For some, turning an unwanted pet loose may seem the only thing to do, but University of Florida extension agents are working to get out the message that it can be dangerous for the animal – and disastrous for the environment.

With a slew of invasive creatures – everything from monkeys to pythons – wreaking havoc throughout Florida’s terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems, three Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences experts put their heads together to find a way to help put a dent in the problem.

They decided to turn their attention first to the state’s pet store owners and workers, because nearly all of those creatures causing problems out in the wild started off as someone’s pet.

Using small grants from UF extension and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Flagler County Sea Grant extension agent Maia McGuire, Osceola County natural resources extension agent Eleanor Foerste and Steve Johnson, a Hillsborough County-based assistant professor in wildlife ecology, put together a campaign aimed at educating those who sell pets and pet supplies, because they often have the most contact with someone thinking about buying such a pet.

"One of the things we want to be sure about, is to make sure staff talk with pet purchasers about how big a pet’s going to be, its space requirements, food requirements, that sort of thing," McGuire said. "I do think there are situations where people go into a pet store, see a young animal and buy it, without realizing how big it’s going to be."

The campaign includes posters, an online survey of pet owners designed to raise awareness about invasive species in Florida, refrigerator magnets to be mailed to those who complete the online survey and a host of tips about what to do, should you discover your pet has grown into a far more demanding creature than you bargained for.

That happens frequently in conjunction with holidays, such as Easter, said Foerste, a natural resources expert.

"People get cute little animals, and they forget that they get bigger, and that what goes in has to come out," she said.

Another factor: Today’s disposable world.

"We don’t keep things," Foerste said. "Our generation probably isn’t creating a lot of antiques."

The campaign, which organizers expect to distribute in most parts of the state this spring, includes a number of tips for pet owners who may be reconsidering their pet purchase. They include:

  • Contacting a pet store about what to do, or to see if the store would be interested in taking the pet back.
  • Looking to hobbyist or rescue groups to see if they can help find the pet a new home.
  • Donating the animal to a local aquarium, zoo, school or nature center.
  • Contacting a veterinarian or pet store for advice about humane disposal.
  • Checking with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at www.MyFWC.com about pet amnesty days.

To find the survey or to find out more about the campaign, visit http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/pet_survey.shtml