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MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — Late spring may be a bright and cheerful time of year for many on the Palouse, as students take part in commencement exercises or leave the area behind in favor of summers at home or abroad — but according to the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, the town isn't the only thing being left behind.
"This can be a sad time of year for us, when students leave behind their pets," said Charlie Powell, WSU veterinary medicine information officer.
Powell, who has been at the hospital for 26 years, said the voluntary relinquishment or even abandonment of pets in the area is common in the late spring, and with the increasing number of people living on campus and on the Palouse, the numbers may be growing.
"I think overall the numbers are probably greater," he said.
One of the most recent patients at the teaching hospital is a 3-foot-long ball python, which was taken to the hospital after being rescued by a Pullman police officer Friday. Reserve Officer Derek Lambert came across the animal, which was trapped in its cage and left at the Pullman Cemetery.
Doctor of veterinary medicine Nickol Finch said the snake was dehydrated, unable to see due to an incomplete shed caused from severe burns as the result of a heating pad left inside its cage.
"It had ventral burns that went about a third of the way back, all the way to the tip of his tail," Finch said. "It was a couple of days old at least by the time we got to him."
Finch said she is hopeful that the snake will survive, but its situation is still touch-and-go.
As reptiles do everything — including healing — so slowly, undetected organ damage may be present, she said.
The snake is currently on painkillers as well as antibiotics to prevent its burns from becoming infected.
Finch said people who adopt animals are often unprepared for the level of care their new pets need and may get erroneous information from pet store staff.
"They should make sure they know what they're getting into before getting an animal, and if you can't take care of it properly, find somebody who can," she said.
Finch said the veterinary hospital can often be a help in re-homing pets when their owners absolutely cannot care for them properly — a solution that is preferable to abandonment.
Personnel at the Whitman County and Latah County humane societies said they don't see much of an influx of animals being brought to the shelter by owners during graduation time, but they do receive animals found that have been abandoned.
Kylene Daschossky, assistant director of the Whitman County Humane Society, said students often consider the society a last resort, trying to re-home animals themselves first. But if that attempt fails animals can end up at the shelter anyway.
Powell said he believes people see leaving animals at a shelter as more emotionally taxing, while abandoning them can be seen as "setting them free."
He said cats are one of the more common animals abandoned, as many people falsely believe domestic cats will be perfectly fine on their own. But their abandonment can be harmful to the animal, as well as the wildlife population as the feline fights to subsist on bird populations.
The cycle of abandonment on the Palouse is common in areas with rapid turnover like university cities and military bases, Powell said.
Cases like that of the burned python can cause harm beyond that suffered by the injured or abandoned animal, Powell said, as students and staff at the veterinary hospital struggle to understand why such things happen.
"We have a counseling psychologist in the department that helps students and staff deal with grief and the emotional aspect of difficult cases," he said. "I don't understand how people can do that emotionally. I'm not built like that."
Information from: The Moscow-Pullman Daily News, http://www.dnews.com