Greenwich Animal Control raises awareness

The bird truly was the word as Liz Riecker of Wilton Parrot Rescue talked about just how difficult it can be to properly take care of an exotic pet with a parrot on her arm and a cockatoo peering over her shoulder. More images will be available online Friday at

The bird truly was the word as Liz Riecker of Wilton Parrot Rescue talked about just how difficult it can be to properly take care of an exotic pet with a parrot on her arm and a cockatoo peering over her shoulder. More images will be available online Friday at

Dogs and cats aside, there are many other kinds of pets to suit nearly every kind of lifestyle.

From turtles to snakes and even chinchillas, there’s a wide array of pets that fall under the exotic category. But unique tagline aside, these pets can come with both a hefty price tag and significant maintenance. So getting a pet, especially an exotic pet, isn’t a decision to be made lightly.

That was the message that Greenwich Animal Control hoped to relay at its Exotic Pet Awareness Day on May 3. During the event, visitors learned about exotic pets during an educational talk presented by the New Canaan Nature Center, toured the North Street Animal Control facilities, and learned just what it takes to care for a pet.

Amanda Keith, visitor center naturalist at the New Canaan Nature Center, showed the audience of families and young children several exotic pets and thoroughly discussed their care and maintenance needs. In a version of show and tell, the audience met Beauty the eastern king snake, Dudley the chinchilla, Jeffrey the red-eared slider turtle, and Smokey the rabbit. Looks and personality aside, these pets all shared one fact in common,  all had been abandoned by their owners. Left at pet stores and at the New Canaan Nature Center, all four animals were examples of exotic pets with previous owners who failed to care for them properly.

“I don’t mean to be negative about any of these pets, but we just want to highlight on this day the real commitment that you are making if you do purchase one of these more exotic pets. Just to kind of give some education and awareness, because if you can just go to a pet store, you might end up with an animal that you weren’t really prepared for,” said Ms. Keith.

Many exotic pets are impulsively purchased by people who aren’t fully informed about the very specific needs of each animal. Chinchillas, while extremely cute and cuddly, are fearful creatures wary of human contact, perhaps not best suited for a family looking for an interactive pet. Non-native turtle species as pets aren’t meant to be released into the wild, despite what many well-meaning owners may think. Parrots can live up to 50 years, a remarkably long lifespan that owners may fail to take into account.

Every pet, and particularly an exotic pet, has a slew of individual needs, and improper care can lead to serious long-term damage.

Greenwich Animal Control sees abandoned pets on a near daily basis. All of its animals come with sad stories. Unlike the ASPCA or Adopt-A-Dog, Animal Control is not a shelter where owners can place their pets when they’re no longer able to care for them. Animal Control is the place for the lost, the abandoned, the strays, the sick, and the injured.

“Unfortunately, we find that people get animals and then dump them. … They’re not ready for the responsibility,” said Bill Peterson, kennel manager and dog trainer at Greenwich Animal Control. “All of the animals here are people problems, people exploit them.”

All seven of the dogs currently housed at Animal Control’s kennel are in need of owners who can care for them, for permanent homes and families who are aware of the great responsibilities of owning a pet. One dog was found roaming the Merritt Parkway, another with a note describing its previous history as a bait dog used in dogfights. They’re animals who have suffered greatly because they haven’t had the right owner. They’re dogs who were all lost but never claimed.

They spend most of their days in cages, with minimal outside time, human contact and opportunities to socialize. Mr. Peterson tries to give them as much attention as possible, to prevent the many potential negative behaviors that arise from restricted kennel environments.

“It’s a very stressful system [for dogs], being in an institution,” said Mr. Peterson.

Animal Control has had dogs stay up to four years before being adopted. Linda Bruno, who is on the advisory board for Shelter Our Strays, said that there’s healthy kitten adoption turnover, and last year, 41 cats were adopted. This is five times the number of dogs that were adopted. At Animal Control, there are also several more exotic pets in need of a home, including two roosters, a rabbit with disabilities, and more.

Finding the right family for a pet is imperative for Animal Control. It’s looking for a pet’s forever home, not simply another short stint in a string of homes. Adopting a pet costs only $50 and the animal comes with all vaccinations, but the staff at Animal Control is adamant that this should be a lifetime commitment and, thus, a decision to weigh carefully as a family. There are no same-day adoptions.

“We try to match the right dog to the right family. We want the entire family to come in. It’s not like buying a car; the dog should kind of pick you. You should do your research on what you’re looking for,” said Mr. Peterson. “It’s a matter of matching the right person to the right dog. What we’re trying to do is to get a forever home. We don’t want someone to pick an animal because it looks like something they’d like and then give it up six months from now.”

Exotic Pet Awareness Day ended on a colorful note, with two parrots from Wilton Parrot Rescue. A cockatoo’s preening and chatting had visitors delightedly entertained. Laughs aside, Liz Riecker, Wilton Parrot Rescue’s founder, stressed just how difficult taking care of an exotic pet like a parrot is.

“Birds are high maintenance and people are uninformed about proper care. Because of their long life span, parrots can bounce from home to home,” said Ms. Riecker.

She founded her organization because she saw a need for a local bird rescue operation. She wanted surrendered parrots to have a chance at a brighter future living in an educated home.

Exotic pets are often given up or resold to new owners, even on websites like Craigslist. While the relationship may end there for an owner, the healthy and happy future of a pet is far from guaranteed.


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