No, this isn't the latest book from J.K. Rowling. It's
the sad reality of what happens when animals in movies or books and
With the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the
Phoenix on June 21, 2003, the fifth book in the series, and "Harry
Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," the third movie, tentatively
scheduled for summer of 2004, wildlife rehabilitators and animal rights
activists are concerned. Again.
Hedwig, Harry's snowy owl, soars upon the screen,
delivering the young wizard's daily post. She's adorable, obedient, and
delivers mail. So is it a surprise hundreds of thousands of children are
begging their parents for their own pet owl?
The Independent Midlands Birds of Prey Rescue Centre in
Norton, Stourbridge, England wasn't surprised. Not even when they found
themselves with over twenty abandoned and surrendered barn owls. (1)
"There are so many barn owls being bred in captivity,"
says Chris Jones, who runs the centre. "People have been breeding them
to sell on the black market since the Harry Potter films came out. But
it is getting out of hand now."(2)
Owls might be cute birds, but what the movies don't show
is that they require a lot of special care. Their diets consist of small
rodents and chicks, they need excessive exercise, and need to live in
either the wild or in an aviary (during rehabilitation or if they are
unable to be returned to the wild).
"The snowy owl is featured in this particular movie. We
understand that Harry Potter keeps it in a parrot cage, which is against
everything we know," said Jenny Thurston, a trustee at the World Owl
Trust at Muncaster Castle near the village of Ravenglass, England. "That
is horrendous. It will foul up people's imagination." (3)
And what many do not realize, is that owls can live
30-50 years. Can you see your ten year old child taking care of an owl
While the books and movie are fictitious, many parents
still succumb to the pleading, tearful requests of their children.
Luckily, owl guardianship is illegal in the United States, thanks to the
fact that owls are protected under international treaties and federal
laws, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Wild Bird
But there are many animals in movies that spark a
child's craving that are readily available in the US.
In 1996, Disney released "101 Dalmatians," and "102
Dalmatians" in 2000. With the two movies came the inevitable demand for
spotted pups. And, much to animal shelters' fears, the inevitable
surplus of surrendered and abandoned dogs.
Dalmatians became the most abandoned breed at US
shelters in 1997. (4) Families that fell in love with the on-screen
antics of the star puppies soon learned that taking care of a real dog
is harder than it looks, and that the breed came with it's own unlikable
quirks-deafness, high shedding, and high energy, to name a few.
Shelters were the hardest hit. Rescue organizations
found themselves dealing with a 300% increase of Dalmatians. (5) Even
though many of the Dalmatians in shelters were adopted out, thousands
were euthanized. Not a scene found in the movie.
Owls and Dalmatians aren't the only animals affected by
entertainment popularity. Parents bought Red-eared Terrapins for their
children who wanted their own "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Pugs were
sought after the release of "Men in Black" movies. And who can forget
the amount of bought-then-abandoned orange tiger kittens and pug puppies
after "Milo and Otis?"
So what can parents do to help stop animal suffering
when their children watch movies and read books?
* Explain to your child that the movie/book is
fantasy-Owls do not deliver the post, and dogs cannot talk
* Explain why the animal would not make a good
companion-Owls can crush a child's wrist and need a lot of space.
Puppies do not stay puppies forever.
* Do not buy an animal purely because of a child's
interest in a movie/book character-While children are the ones who ask,
it's the parents who buy. Remember, a companion animal is a member of
the family, and all members of the family must agree on the animal
(including the parents).
* Use this chance to educate-If your child really wants
his/her own Hedwig or Pongo, take books out from the library about the
animals. Surf the web with your child to find sites about the animals.
* Buy plush, not live-Official plush Hedwigs and
Dalmatian puppies are readily available in toy stores and online. You
can even find unofficial look-alikes in stores. You can even take it one
step further by leaving personalized letters with the Hedwig plushes for
your child to find after school, or hide the Dalmatian puppy plush and
leaving clues so your child can "rescue" him/her. Children will love
these new games because it ties in with the movies, and brings you and
your child closer.
* Decorate with the animals-Stickers, postcards,
* Educate about rescue-If you have a Harry Potter fan,
teach him about owl wildlife rehabilitation. Child like the spotted
pups? Teach her about Dalmatian rescue organizations If possible, take
the children to the rescue centres, rehab centres, and shelters to see
the animals in real life. Don't, however, take them to pet stores, zoos,
or circuses to see them.
* Sponsor an animal-There are many rescue programs that
allow you to "adopt" an animal without ever having to worry about
messes, feeding, and care. All you need to do is give a sponsorship
pledge to an organization You'll receive pictures, information, and
updates about your "adopted" animal.