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A young character adopts an abandoned or orphaned baby wild animal and cares for it as a beloved pet.
However, when the animal reaches maturity, the character is advised and/or pressured by the adult characters to drive it away so it can live in the wild on its own. With heartbroken reluctance, the young one complies and is profoundly upset as the animal leaves. If it happens early enough in an episode or arc, this may later result in an Androcles' Lion. The fact that a creature raised in captivity will lack the necessary skills to survive in the wild will very rarely be addressed. Nature is loving and nourishing, right?
In a variant ending, the animal comes back on its own, indicating it has no intention of leaving. In the face of this resistance, the adult's resolve is broken and the young character is allowed to keep the animal for good. If they aren't released, the hero may discover their pet has possessive parents.
Another variant ending has the animal dying, and we have a Very Special Episode about death. These critters are particularly at risk of Death by Newbery Medal and Shoot the Dog. If the Pet Baby Wild Animal is especially dangerous, the person bringing it home may be a Fluffy Tamer.
- In Azumanga Daioh, Sakaki befriends Yamamaya, a stray Iriomote wildcat. In contrast to her abysmal luck with domesticated cats, the wildcat takes a liking to her and even fends off her feline antagonist Kamineko. Although this species is endangered and could not be kept as a pet, Yamamaya later found its way from Okinawa to Japan to find her after its mother was hit by a car, and is staying with Chiyo-Chan until Sakaki gets her own apartment.
- The manga by Osamu Tezuka Black Jack treats this several times, and one of these stories is particularly cruel... A young and naïve scientist who's a friend of Dr. Black Jack uses a little deer in his experiments, raising his intelligence to almost human levels, and then adopts it as his family since both are orphans. The animal develops a morbose affection for his caretaker... so much that, when the man gets married and mentions it to his animal friend, he almost kills the wife. Not content with that, when Black Jack attempts to operate on the poor woman to save her, the deer appears and attacks them, so the scientist has to shoot the animal away. The deer walks away from them, never to be seen, but at least the doc's spouse gets better.
- In the beginning of Chii's Sweet Home, the title character is a stray cat separated from her mother and siblings. Not quite the same thing, but it took a while to get used to the people who eventually found her (who don't know her story).
- Jinpei in Gatchaman is known for his affinity to animals, but the example most specific to this trope is in a Gatch II episode where he tries to adopt an orphaned baby puma. Not only does he have to set it free, he's also struck with the realization that for him, childhood's over. (To be fair, though, he is 12 years old by this point)
- Aversion: Fushigi no Umi no Nadia takes place over less than a year in the life of the characters; we never actually see Nadia's pet lion cub growing up.
- In One Piece: the heroes meet a whale named Laboon who was adopted as a baby by a pirate crew, when the crew was about to enter the Grand Line a area where the young whale couldn't follow them (and would be to dangerous even if it could) the crew left Laboon behind at the cape near the entrance promising to return. After 50 years of waiting Laboon's caretaker informed the whale that the crew was seen trying to flee the Grand Line and had abandoned him devastating the creature.
- It turns out the crew never intended to leave Laboon for so long but ended up having really bad luck. A large portion of crew became ill and separated to prevent more from becoming sick (which was what was reported as them fleeing) and the rest were sucked into a Bermuda Triangle like place and killed. All expect Brook who's powers allowed him to come back to life and who is currently traveling with the Straw Hat crew and plans to reunite with the whale and give it the dead crew's final message. A recording of Laboon's favorite song played by the last members as they died.
- Done in the 9th Pokémon movie, of all places, with May and Manaphy. Also occured a couple of times in the series, in which a character nurses an injured wild Pokemon back to health and then sets them free.
- Twice Chouhi has had problems with this in Koihime Musou. She thought a random bear and a random boar were grown up versions of pets she had as a kid. This goes well until she realizes that, no, they aren't. Which immediately cues a chase scene.
- In Utawarerumono, the little girl Aruruu raises a huge, nearly invincible tiger from a cub. Later the animal becomes a valuable ally in battles.
- In the comic book series Bone, a couple of the Bones adopt an orphaned rat creature and head out to return him to the other rat creatures. This gets pretty weird because the rat creatures are serving the Big Bad. There's also a weird scene where two older rat creatures are conversing with the Bones and the Bones are acting all 'accepting of the foreign culture' and completely ignoring that the rat creatures actually don't like the way they are living, because the Big Bad is a nasty dictator with magical powers.
- Calvin and Hobbes had a story arc in which Calvin found and brought home a baby raccoon; he had it for a day or so before it died of illness. Besides showing the rarer compassionate side of Calvin, the story also explained that death was sometimes inevitable, and the best you could do was make the victim comfortable.
- What do you mean, "sometimes" inevitable?
- To a six year old it is.
- What do you mean, "sometimes" inevitable?
- There is an Elf Quest short story in which the Wolfrider elves prevent a human from killing a wolf. The human tells them that he and his wife had raised the animal from a cub, only for it to kill their infant son. The Wolfriders, who are naturally familiar with wolf behavior, tell the man that the wolf was only obeying its instincts, and that he should not have let his son play with it unsupervised. The Wolfriders adopt the animal, but it can't adapt to life in the wild or integrate with their wolfpack. Eventually it runs back to its former master, and the elves can only speculate as to whether the human will kill it or give it a second chance. The story is apparently intended as a warning to fans about the dangers of owning a real wolf or wolf/dog hybrid.
- Fly Away Home is about a girl who rescues a nest of goslings to adulthood, and then must teach them how to fly and then migrate for the winter. Here, the girl enjoys a compromise, the birds are returned to the wild, but her farm is their regular migration destination in the spring.
- Born Free: Based on a True Story about the difficulty of reintroducing a lion raised in captivity to the wild.
- Two Brothers has each of the two tiger cub brothers being raised as pets. One of them is kept as the pet of a child, however after it kills the family dog, it is sold to prince that trains it to be a fighting tiger. The other is kept by a hunter, but is confiscated when he is arrested and sold to a circus. When both tigers escape, the hunter explains to the child that tigers raised in captivity tend to become man eaters if they escape to the wild, because they never learn how to hunt.
- In a story from The Berenstain Bears, Sister Bear found and adopted a baby chipmunk. Sure enough, it's cute at first, but soon grows to be a problem, getting all over the house and chewing stuff up.
- The titular raccoon in Sterling North's Newbery Medal-winning young adult novel Rascal and the Disney live-action adaptation.
- The book (and film) Ring Of Bright Water tell the true story of how a man adopted and raised a baby otter.
- In Stone of Tears, Richard adopts Gratch, a baby gar (winged man-eating monster) after Richard kills its parents (who, of course, were trying to eat him), and eventually sends it out into the wild before he can be discovered and killed. Gratch returns in the later books to help out at various times.
- In Jean Auel's second Earth's Children book, The Valley of Horses, her main character Ayla does this twice. In the first instance she raises a foal (whose mother she killed and crafted materials from) and later released it to be with other horses. Said horse later returned to her and gave birth to a foal. The second instance is when she adopted an injured cave lion cub which she incidentally named "Baby". After it left her to be with other lions, it proceeded to maul a man who would later be her husband. Oh yes, Ayla's a cavewoman and she's supposed to be the first person to domesticate wild animals.
- She gets a wolf later on too, making her the first person to domesticate horses, cats, and dogs.
- Inverted in The Jungle Book: There was once this wolfpack who adopted a human cub and successfully raised him. Though when he reached puberty they had to let him go, so he could find a mate.
- In the The Dick Van Dyke Show episode "Never Love a Duck" Rob brings home two ducklings which were used as props for the week's Alan Brady Show episode. Richie takes care of them, but one dies and the other is relased into the wilds of New Rochelle NY.
- On Friends, Ross had a pet monkey named Marcel for most of a season until Marcel reached adolescence and started humping everything in sight.
Rachel: My Curious George doll is no longer curious!
- In Lassie, the title dog adopted a raccoon, which was later killed by a speeding car. Everyone learned an important lesson about careful driving.
- Rex in Primeval (also doubling as the best excuse for a former S-Clubber in her knickers ever).
- Happens again in series two. This time it's with a sabre-toothed cat raised by a theme park worker. It then mauls her to death.
- In Season 3 Connor and Abby adopt two Diictodons.
- Done in the short-lived American sci-fi show Surface - a teenage boy keeps a violent baby green lizard named Nim, and after Nim knocks a policeman unconscious somehow, the boy racks up charges for assault, grand theft auto and driving under the age limit in an attempt to save Nim from the police - he eventually ends up freeing Nim into the sea, but still has to do community service.
- Some Truth in Television examples have appeared on various Animal Planet shows, often accompanied by cautionary messages that wildlife rehabilitation should be left to professionals. In one noteworthy case involving a raccoon, the warning was probably unnecessary, as the hand-reared raccoon had trashed most of its rescuer's house and refused to stay away even after being relocated to the nearby woods.
- The second Sound Stage of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha revealed that Arf has this as her backstory. She was a terminally ill wolf pup that Fate temporarily turned into a Familiar so that she can save her with the intent of letting her go by making a Magically-Binding Contract that lets Arf do whatever she wants with her given life. Arf, however, had been very impressed by Fate's compassion by that point, and when it was her turn to put in her part of the contract, she stated that she will stay by Fate's side until the end of her life.
- The hero and his future wife in Dragon Quest V adopt a "kitty" that turns out to be a baby Giant Panther. After capturing the hero and another friend later, The Dragon deliberately forces it back to the wild to try and turn it feral, but years later it recognizes the hero's wife's ribbon and rejoins the party, turning out to be extremely useful.
- In the Backstory of Kanon, Yuuichi secretly kept an injured fox, which Akiko found out about but never mentioned. When he had to go back home, he was forced to abandon the fox. Seven years later, during the actual show, the town's miracles have caused the fox to return as the animal-like human Makoto, who wants revenge or at least answers as to why she was abandoned. However, the price of the wish, among other things, was Easy Amnesia, so she has no idea who she is or why she's so angry at him.
- This is Botan's origin story in Clannad: Kyou found the baby boar on its own in a field and took it in. Botan seems to have adapted perfectly to domestic life (though he has a habit of following Kyou to school), and even as an adult boar five years later is extremely well-behaved.
- In Tales of the Questor, Nessie, a raccoonan girl with the power to control animals among other abilities, summons a small bog dragon to fetch her something. While she lets him go, the animal makes such a fuss about being left behind that she adopts him and calls him Oggy. Furthermore, when she goes off to mage school and tries to let Oggy go again, he makes another fuss that makes him her constant companion from then on.
- In Codename: Kids Next Door, Numbuh 2 and Numbuh 3 adopted a wild baby skunk in "Operation: C.A.M.P." Later, he was introduced into KND as Numbuh 6.
- Who then got the We Can Rebuild Him treatment.
- My Little Pony has an episode where the ponies look after a gigantic puppy that was separated from her friends.
- Friendship Is Magic takes the trope a little further by giving Pinkie Pie a pet alligator - Gummy.
- Fluttershy has a wildly disparate horde of animals living on her property, although it's not clear whether they're pets or squatters; she loves them all nonetheless. The trope application is kind of unclear; ponies in this incarnation of the franchise are sort of stewards of nature, with the care of wildlife falling under the domain of "earth ponies" (Fluttershy is a bit of an oddball, specializing in animal care even though she's a pegasus, which typically are in charge of the weather).
- Spike now has a pet baby phoenix.
- Friendship Is Magic takes the trope a little further by giving Pinkie Pie a pet alligator - Gummy.
- Teen Titans had Beast Boy (and effectively Starfire) taking in one of Killer Moth's larvae, who after a rampage returned to "normal" and, due to the inherent outlandishness of the show, was kept as a pet.
- In Dora the Explorer, Diego adopts a baby jaguar who later becomes a main character.
- In one episode of Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures, Orange Blossom takes a little fish home, which turns out to be a tadpole. Despite her friends' insistence that Tad, now a frog, should go back into the wild where he belongs, Orange does her best to take care of him. In the end, she does finally let him go, but in a subversion of the usual heartfelt goodbye scene, the minute she lets Tad off his leash, he takes off like a shot without even a second glance.
- Parodied on Clone High. Ghandi and Gengis Khan kidnap rival school GESH (Genetically Engineered Superhuman High)'s mascot as a sports prank, only to discover it's not a kid in a costume, but a genetically engineered creature with a zipper. After playing with Geshy in a "best friends" montage, Ghandi realizes he should release Geshy into the wild. Geshy's sad to leave, but goes, only to prove an exceptionally brutal — and hungry — predator. Cue Ghandi's Not-So-Innocent Whistle as he leaves.
- Cubbi adopted an orphaned wolf cub whom he named Loopy in the Gummi Bears episode, "Loopy, Go Home". In the end of the episode, after Loopy is all grown up, Cubbi releases Loopy back in the wild after he saves Cubbi and Gruffi from a poacher.
- Two men in England raised a lion from a cub. When he was full grown, they had to get rid of him, so they released him in a reserve in Africa. They were told when they went to visit him the next year that the lion would not remember them; on the contrary, he was very happy to see them again. (Look on YouTube for 'Christian the Lion'.)
- America has the lion Zamba, who was raised by animal behaviourist Ralph Helfer, and the lioness Little Tyke, who was raised by Georges and Margaret Westbeau, and amazingly became a vegetarian.
- Wolves tend to subvert this. While a wolf is willing to (grudgingly) submit to a human, he will attempt to take charge and force his 'master' to submit, at the first given opportunity. Although cases where the wolf remained on good terms with the person who raised it, are not unheard of.
- A few Native American nations were reported to raise skunks from infancy and keep them as pets for children, though true domestication of skunks didn't start until the 1950s.
- "vanilla horses" to us rational folk