Abandoned Easter Pets Ruffle Arizona Rescues' Feathers

Published: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 3:59pm
Updated: Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 5:34pm
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Lisa Limbert with East Valley Wildlife holds a domestic Lionhead rabbit.
(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
A domestic call duck is snuggled by 4th-grade students.

The Riparian Preserve in Gilbert is the perfect place to watch ducks.

Most of the ducks are mallards, with deep green heads or speckled brown wings, but one duck on the lake stood out. It was white all over, with a tuft of feathers on its head. It looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, but it’s not a wild duck.

“There’s only one kind of waterfowl duck we should see out there, and that’s our migratory mallard. So if you see a big old white duck, that’s someone’s pet, that’s someone’s farm duck,” Lisa Limbert said.

Limbert is with East Valley Wildlife, a wildlife rehab group. But every year, the volunteers find themselves roped into rescuing domestic animals that were released into the wild.

On Tuesday, Limbert taught a group of 4th graders at the Riparian Preserve. They got to pet Puddles the duck and Frosty the rabbit.

“This is a new breed of domestic rabbit; it’s called a lionhead,” Limbert told the kids. “Look at all that hair.”

Frosty is missing an eye. He was released into the wild and didn’t do too well. Limbert said people think small pets intuitively know how to survive on their own.

“It would just be like dropping us off in the woods,” Limbert said. “I mean, maybe there is edible stuff out there, but we don’t know how to identify it. He doesn’t either.” 

Gilbert Parks and Recreation bans the release of domestic animals in a park or preserve, but it still happens. Limbert said the release of ducks and bunnies springs upward a couple months after Easter. Kim Dezelon with Brambley Hedge Bunny Rescue can second that.

“It’s kind of a cycle every single year, and we do tend to see more rabbits homeless or found as strays around May or June,” Dezelon said. 

The bunny rescue holds adoptions every week - except the week of Easter. Dezelon said they worry people are interested in an impulse holiday buy rather than an eight-year-plus commitment. Then overflowing rescues, like Brambley, can’t handle all the intake requests, and the county shelter doesn’t take farm animals.

So, some end up in the parks. But that doesn’t mean they’re taken care of by the state. 

“If we’ve got wildlife officers out and they see a domestic duck hanging out with ducks on a pond at a golf course we don’t do anything with it,” said Lynda Lambert, with Arizona Game and Fish.

As long as the ducks and bunnies aren’t competing with the native species, Lambert said, they leave them alone. But then it’s East Valley Wildlife that may get the call if one of those animals is injured. Limbert said it’s frustrating. 

“We’re spending an awful lot of time re-homing, treating, absorbing our precious resources taking care of peoples' discarded pets, and that affects the wildlife that we’re truly set up and licensed to help, and that’s really disappointing,” Limbert said.

So East Valley Wildlife and bunny rescues like Brambley Hedge use the Easter holiday as an opportunity to try to educate people.

Limbert said it’s fine if a family does want to adopt a “Puddles” or a “Frosty,” as long as they’ve got their ducks in a row when they adopt and they plan to keep the pet around for many Easters to come. 

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