Point Pelee says unwanted pets not wanted in national park

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With Point Pelee National Park staff on the prowl for at least two domestic cats currently on the loose in the ecologically sensitive spit of land, owners of unwanted pets are being urged not to dispose of them in the wild.

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“I love cats too, but they just don’t belong in a national park,” said David Walker, Point Pelee’s acting resource conservation manager. The park that juts into Lake Erie in Leamington “is a little island of Carolinian forest at the southern end of Canada, surrounding by farms,” he added.

There’s been no recent spike in the number of pets being discovered in the park, but “it’s been a continuous trend for years,” said Walker.

Mostly cats and pet bunnies, but also goldfish and other exotic aquarium species, as well as even the types of turtles sold in pet stores, have been among the foreigners scooped out of the protected and ecologically sensitive park, the second-smallest but one of the most species-diverse in the national Parks Canada system.

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“Don’t bring any animals into the park,” said Walker, who describes as “invasive species” any domesticated critters entering Point Pelee National Park.

Aerial view of the Point Pelee National Park, Canada's most southern point, in 2007.
Aerial view of the Point Pelee National Park, Canada’s most southern point, in 2007. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Since April, he said, there have been at least six instances of domestic animals being spotted within the park’s 15 square kilometers. Staff have been trying unsuccessfully in recent weeks to live-trap a tabby roaming the park’s north end, while attempts are also underway to catch another feline with “white socks.”

Point Pelee National Park is a bird mecca and home, or a migratory stopover, for many rare and at-risk species. Cats and birds don’t mix well, but when it comes to dumping pets in the park, said Walker, “the bottom line is, it’s cruel.”

Pets are not used to hunting and can fall prey to the local coyote population, he said. Bringing animals from outside can introduce diseases to the park, and “in less than 24 hours they’re going to be covered in ticks,” which can spread disease to those pets.

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Unwanted animals, say park staff, should be brought to the local humane society or wildlife rescue shelters. Walker said some of the cats found in Point Pelee National Park could also have simply strayed in from adjacent homes or farms.

We treat pets like invasive species

Goldfish have been dumped in the waters and become an invasive pest competing with local species, and Point Pelee staff even once pulled a coastal plain coot — a turtle more at home in Florida — out of the park’s wetland waters. That turtle would not have survived the winter, but another invasive turtle, a slider, was found to have taken over the mound of a native at-risk turtle and ugly its eggs, which were removed by park staff.

And it’s not just domestic pets. On one recent occasion, parks maintenance employees alerted staff to visitors seen with raccoons in a parking lot, one of the critters even on a person’s shoulder. By the time staff arrived, Walker said the people were gone but the raccoons remained.

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“It’s just my speculation, but presumably those people found some babies, they got older and they couldn’t take care of them,” said Walker. Raccoons may be native to the area, but “we already have lots,” he said, and they’re territorial and the young newcomers would likely have lost out in the struggle for food and shelter.

Protecting ecological integrity is the No. 1 priority for Parks Canada, said Walker. “We treat pets like invasive species.”

Windsor/Essex County Humane Society executive director Melanie Coulter holds Angel – a cat up for adoption on July 27, 2022.
Windsor/Essex County Humane Society executive director Melanie Coulter holds Angel – a cat up for adoption on July 27, 2022. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

There are “a variety of options, including the humane society or shelter rescue groups,” said Melanie Coulter, executive director of the Windsor-Essex County Humane Society.

“I try to help people deal with their situations,” said Nancy Phillips, president and animal overseer at Wings Avian Rehabilitation Center in Amherstburg.

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“There’s always somebody around — you don’t need to set things on fire,” she said of those who feel the only solution is dumping an unwanted animal in the countryside. She said there are “lots of cat groups and others who will help.”

During COVID, “everything went crazy,” said Phillips. Now, with people returning to work and the skyrocketing cost of living, she said “a lot of people are dumping animals.”

But why at places like Point Pelee National Park? “People are going to put them where they think they should go,” said Phillips.

Originally established to care for injured or abandoned birds, Wings Rehab currently shelters over 300 animals or all types, including more than 40 raccoons.

dschmidt@postmedia.com

twitter.com/schmidtcity

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