Written by Christine Mansfield

It’s no secret that the Arboretum is a gorgeous piece of wildlife habitat right in the middle of Houston. From birds and bunnies to turtles and snakes, we are home to a wide variety of native species, but that doesn’t mean our grounds are a great place for ALL animals. Unfortunately, staff will occasionally stumble upon abandoned pets – bunnies, cats, and in yesterday’s case a single white chicken.

Here are just a few of the reasons that releasing a pet (instead of finding a local rescue group – and yes, there is one for chickens) is a bad idea:

Survival is tough
Unlike native wildlife, domesticated pets generally don’t know how to survive in the wild. Finding food, water, and shelter in this foreign environment can be next to impossible for an animal that has been cared for its whole life. Not only that, now there are predators to hide from! Coyotes, snakes, and other Arboretum predators pose a huge threat to friendly domesticated pets that don’t know when to run and hide. Pets with lighter coloring stick out in our forests and are easy targets.

This white chicken was discovered by staff earlier this week.

White chicken

Bad news for the locals
Released pets that do survive can lead to trouble for local plants and animals. Even the cutest pets can be contagious, carrying diseases that could negatively impact our wildlife populations. This is especially true for domesticated varieties of native species like the Red-eared Sliders found in our ponds. Introduced animals also threaten native species by competing for resources and even preying upon smaller natives.

It’s definitely illegal
In case those reasons weren’t bad enough, in Texas abandoning an animal is considered animal cruelty and is against the law. Thankfully, there are other options – like local rescue groups, humane societies, and shelters. While we love pets and our local wildlife, the two are not a match made in heaven. Unlike our native Swamp Rabbits, this bunny stands out in the woods.

White bunny

Bonus Content: No new natives
Occasionally, well-meaning people will bring native wildlife to the Arboretum that has been rehabilitated or found elsewhere. Unfortunately, these animals pose many of the same threats as domesticated pets. Disease, competition, displacement, and predation are risks to local wildlife, even when releasing a native species. The urban location of the Arboretum can also be dangerous for released natives that aren’t used to people or heavily trafficked roads.