Domestic turtles, cats and rabbits have been found roaming around Point Pelee National Park — sightings that have park officials asking the public to use shelter options instead.
Since April, the Leamington park said between six to 12 domestic animals have been spotted. Park staff told CBC News that they can tell the animals aren't native to the region based on the type of species they are and their behaviour.
The most common types of animals are cats and rabbits, but over the years they've also captured domestic fish and turtles that have made their way in as well.
"It's been an issue I guess for a number of years," said the park's acting resource conservation manager David Walker.
"It's cruel to the animal, dropping them off in the park, because they're going into established territories [and] they're not used to fending for themselves."
Some of the more unusual animals Walker and his team have had to remove from the park include a coastal plain cooter turtle, which is native to Florida and wouldn't survive this region's cold winters. The turtle was found in 2013.
Walker said they also had a family bring in pet raccoons and then leave them in the park.
Pets considered 'invasive species' to the park
When Walker or his staff spot a domestic animal, he said they will set a live trap for it and then send it off to the appropriate shelter or rehabilitation centre.
Usually the animals are found in "very poor conditions," some are injured and often times they are covered in ticks, Walker said.
A domesticated animal, he said, will have a hard time surviving out in the wilderness.
"They will have trouble finding food and water and then if there's predators, we have a coyote population," he said.
He added that the animals can also bring disease into the park or they can prey on native at-risk species.
"A pet is an invasive species. So we have active management to try to remove those species from the park to protect the species at risk that are native to the area," he said.
The park is also a Carolinian forest habitat — it has plants and animals similar to those found further south. Walker said this type of habitat is rare in Canada, so they're trying to preserve it for species that need that environment.
In addition to it being bad for the animal and the ecosystem, Walker said dropping domestic animals into the park is a criminal offence and people can be charged.
Shelters, rehab 'responsible options'
One option for people who can no longer care for their pet or no longer want it is to book an appointment with the Windsor/Essex Humane Society.
Melanie Coulter, executive director of the humane society, said it's "frustrating" to hear that this continues to be an ongoing issue.
"When you adopt a pet you are really making a commitment to them and you're saying you're going to care for them. When you're taking them in, that's something you're committing to them for their life," she said.
Coulter added that it's understandable that sometimes the situation changes where the owner may no longer be able to care for the animal, but she said in that case there are "responsible options" for someone to choose.
She encouraged people to call the humane society or other nearby shelters.
Sometimes, there are waits for a shelter to accept an animal, but Coulter said they can accommodate urgent situations and that usually the process to surrender is pretty easy.
She also said that when a stray comes in, the humane society doesn't know the animal's history and that makes it harder to find it a new home.
"Your pet's given you lots of love over time and they're committed to you and it's really important to give that back," she said.