Animal Writes
From 29 June 2003 Issue

Harry Potter and The Abandoned Owls
By [email protected] 

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 children collide.

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 at 60?

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 Conservation Act.

But there are many animals in movies that spark a child's craving that are readily available in the US.

Like Dalmatians.

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, pictures, etc!

* 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.

Useful Information

* Soaring Hawk Raptor Rehabilitation-- 
* Raptor Education Group, Inc-- 
* Snowy Owl Hub-- 
* Defenders of Wildlife's Save Owls Site-- 

* Dalmatian Rescue Resources-- 
* Dalmatian Rescue List-- 
* Dalmatian Info-- 
* Recycled Canines-- 

(1) Plea on homes for 'Harry Potter' owls--  
(2) ibid.
(3) Harry Potter Owl Scenes Alarm Animal Advocates-- 
(4) Animal lovers scramble to save abandoned Dalmatians-- 
(5) With movie craze over, woman helps Dalmatians find homes- 

Go on to New Course Will Examine Status of Animals in Society
Return to 29 June 2003 Issue
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