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A Pet Into The Wild

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A pet animal, usually a dog or cat, escapes their home and lives on their own.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
Pichu-kun on Feb 5th 2017 at 1:19:36 PM
Last Edited By:
Pichu-kun on Dec 4th 2017 at 1:57:25 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

A very common occurrence in xenofiction media starring domesticated animals is for the protagonists to be strays. This adds a lot of drama to their life (having to flee from predators and humans, having to find food and shelter, dealing with rival animals, etc) but is also convenient for the writers (can create mythos and cultures for the animals, no need for curfews, no being confined by the limits of having an owner, no explanations for why the pets are outside all the time, etc).

Occasionally the pets will be born a stray but more commonly they will be a pet who runs off or is abandoned by their owner. Many times these pets-gone-strays will be bored of being a pet and jump at the excuse to leave. Rarely do their owners seem to care for their missing pet and even rarer do they actually retrieve them. The protagonist being a former pet makes them a good Audience Surrogate as they're uncertain about how living as a stray works and must learn alongside the viewer.

Characters who were originally pets will often face Fantastic Racism from feral animals for having been a pet. This can be anything from mild teasing to full-on aggression. In some works, the offspring of a stray and a pet (or a pet-gone-stray and a stray) will face hatred as well.

Stories that revolve around pets on their own usually come in two types: One where the animal flees willingly and another where they're lost or abandoned. In the former case, expect them to stay strays the entire story. In the latter case though, they'll often return to their owners or be adopted by someone else.

This is more common with cats than other pets. Dogs and cats are the most popular animals for xenofiction however, in most developed countries stray dogs are uncommon. They're either rare or are quickly caught by humans. Stray and feral dogs are seen as more of a hazard than a stray cat is, though stray cats are considered more hazardous to the environment than their canine counterparts, and even feral dogs tend to be more tameable than feral cats. In contrasy, stray and feral cats are a common sight even in urban areas.

There's a bit of Values Dissonance to these types of stories. Many, such as Warrior Cats and Varjak Paw, are written by European writers. In North Americas there is a large "Inside Cat vs Outside Cat" issue, with most animal welfare groups and cat experts citing that cats should exclusively be inside cats and that it'd abusive and bad for the environment if cats are left outside unattended. In the UK, however, the opposite is true. Leaving your cat inside is seen as abusive and cats are meant to be allowed outside. Many adoption agencies won't even adopt out cats if they're intended to be inside cats. Australia is in the middle ground: letting your cats outside is a good thing, as long as it's daylight because your cat will screw the environment if they're outside at night. Feral animals do exist nevertheless, however North Americans are less likely to glamourize it.

This trope is almost always presented in a more positive light than it is in real life. In real life, pets-gone-stray do not do well in the wild. They don't have the survival skills of feral animals and often times get loose in places completely unsuitable for their species. If they do somehow make it past their first few weeks without being killed or rescued, they'll likely have less-than-fortunate lives filled with hunger, parasites, and danger. Not even feral animals live long (feral cats have a lifespan around 3-5 years in contrast to pets who live 13-20), nevermind pets who have to learn survival skills as adults. Alas, watching a dog die of starvation isn't exactly fun so most stories (even darker ones) whitewash the harsher aspects.

Contrast with From Stray to Pet, where a stray animal is adopted. Compare to The Runaway and Stray Animal Story.


Anime & Manga

  • The start of Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin is a tale about a a boy and his dog, Gin. After a few episodes Gin joins a pack of feral dogs and the series changes focus to being about him.
  • Blue from Wolf's Rain is a wolf-dog. She originally hunted wolves alongside her master, Quent Yaiden, however when she learned she was half-wolf she joined the wolves. Blue subverts the usual cliches as she has no issue living in the wild nor is she the lead.

Film — Animation

  • Leafie, a Hen into the Wild is about an abused hen living in a factory farm who one day manages to escape. She escapes to the local marsh and lives amongst the wild animals. Leafie ends up adopting a duckling after his parents are killed by a local weasel, and the film is mostly about her and her son Greenie.
  • Lady and the Tramp
    • In the original film, Lady is a pampered pet Cocker Spaniel who leaves her home early on. She doesn't actively seek to become a stray though and ultimately returns home after having a fling with the Tramp. In the end, the Tramp himself is taken in by Lady's family and becomes Lady's mate (though he got her pregnant earlier in the film).
    • In the sequel, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure, Lady's and Tramp's only son Scamp is a rowdy puppy who wishes he could live on the streets. His father Tramp has settled in nicely to life as a pet and is very against his son's desire. One day Scamp escapes from home to join up with a local gang of junkyard dogs. He befriends a puppy named Angel, who unlike him wants to become a pet. Scamp soon learns that being a stray isn't as fun as he thought it would be, and in the end both he and his girlfriend return to his owners.
  • Bolt is about a German Shepherd named Bolt who accidentally gets lost. Besides having no experience on his own, Bolt also believes he's a superhero due to being raised on a TV show since puppyhood. He befriends a stray cat named "Mittens" and a hamster named "Rhino" that help him survive. Ultimately Bolt returns to his owner and his friends get adopted by her too.
  • In The Aristocats a molly cat and her kittens are left to die by a butler who is mad that their wealthy owner gave her cats her inheritance and not him. Duchess and her children must find their way home with the help of a stray named Thomas O'Malley. Ultimately they return home and Tom gets adopted too.
  • In the end of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Spirit is returned to his herd in the wild alongside his human-raised mate, Rain.
  • In the sequel to Balto, Balto II: Wolf Quest, Aleu is the only one of Balto and Jenna's puppies who is not adopted. This is due to the fact she looks more like a wolf than a dog (her father being a wolf-dog). She ultimately ends up leading a pack of wolves.
  • Flushed Away is about a pampered pet rat who is accidentally lost in the sewers of London.

Film — Live Action

  • Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey: Two dogs and a cat are left on a farm while their owners are on vacation, but not understanding they think their family is in trouble and escape to trek hundreds of miles across the Sierras to return home.


  • From Stray to Pet appears in Warrior Cats but is much more common for this to occur. Warrior cats look down upon "kittypets" (and it's against the Warrior Code to interact with humans and act like a kittypet), and thus it's rare for them to be taken in by humans permanently, however many kittypets leave their owners to join Clans.
    • The series starts out with a kittypet kitten named Rusty who finds his life as a pet bland and has dreams of being a stray cat. One day he ventures away from home and comes across three cats from ThunderClan. Due to Bluestar recognizing Rusty as being the cat who will likely fulfill a recent prophecy she has seen, she allows Rusty to join the Clan and renames him "Firepaw". Firepaw is renamed "Fireheart" once he finishes his warrior training and ultimately becomes "Firestar" when he becomes the new leader of ThunderClan.
    • Fireheart brought his nephew, Cloudtail, to ThunderClan as a young kit. His sister, Princess, wanted to choose what happened to her firstborn as she knew her owners would chose where her other kits went. Cloudtail was ostrasized by others for his kittypet heritage but didn't even know he was adopted until he was almost of apprentice age.
    • Firestar's half brother Scourge was a kittypet named "Tiny", who fled his home after his sister told that any kittens that humans didn't want were thrown in the river.
    • Sasha's owner was sent to a nursing home. When she realized he wasn't coming back, she became a rogue cat.
    • Purdy became a rogue after his owner died.
    • Millie left her home to help Graystripe find ThunderClan and join it herself.
    • Many of New SkyClan were kittypets who left their homes to join the Clan.
    • Violet's kits were born as kittypets however they wanted to become warriors. Violet let Ravenpaw take them to New SkyClan
    • Socks and Ruby are Scourge's littermates. They bullied him and excluded him from their games growing up. Socks and Ruby ended up brought by twolegs, however, not too long afterwards their twolegs abandoned them after moving away. The two begged their brother Scourge to take them in but he chased them off. It's never clarified if Socks and Ruby were adopted or if they lived as loners for the rest of their lifes.
  • In Windrusher, a cat named Tony is abandoned by his owners. In his effort to find them, he is nicknamed "Windrusher" by other animals.
  • In The Call of the Wild a sled-dog named Buck ends up acting increasingly wild until he joins a wolf pack.
  • Varjak Paw is about a kitten named Varjak who is forced to leave his pampered home in order to save his family. While Varjak is quite clueless about life outside his home, in many respects he quickly becomes more adept at living as a stray than his peers. While he doesn't know the social in's and out's of being a stray, Varjak is able to unlock the "Way" which allows him to hunt animals. Most of the stray cats in the city can't hunt and instead scavenge off of humans.
  • Survivor Dogs:
    • A stray dog named "Lucky" (who was born a pet) manages to escape his enclosure at a pound after an earthquake. He finds out the humans have evacuated the area and left their pets behind. Lucky and several other abandoned dogs form a pack. The Leashed Dog pack, which eventually became the Wild Dogs pack, spent a long time trying to get used to the fact they'll never see their longpaws again. Sunshine, a Maltese and an Omega, was the most attached to hers and will likely never get over them.
    • Sweet is a swift-dog (Greyhound) who lived as a racing dog until she was deemed too old. The dogs were let loose into a pack, instead of being given to shelters or euthanised. The rest of her pack died in the Big Growl.
  • Marco from Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria is a pet cat who can read. After he becomes homeless, he meets a group of cats entrusted with guarding a group of mystical books. An elder chooses Marco as the next in-line to guard one of the most special books.
  • Stray by A.N. Wilson is about a cat named Pufftail throughout his life. He has been owned by several owners (both abusive and kind), been abused in a lab, and lived as a stray on the streets.
  • The Dogs of the Drowned City stars a German Shepherd named Shep who, after a hurricane forces the humans to evacuate, is forced to leave his home and venture into the surrounding area.
  • The Incredible Journey is about a Labrador Retriever named Luath, a Bull Terrier named Bodger, and a Siamese cat named Tao who get lost in the Canadian wilderness and must find their way back home. It and its 1963 film adaptation was the inspiration for the 1993 film Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.
  • The Good Dog by Avi is about a Malamute named McKinley who meets a wolf named Lupin who is trying to persuade dogs to leave their owners and join her pack.
  • Doglands by Tim Willocks is about a puppy named Furgul who is born into a camp for racing Greyhounds. When the owner finds out that Furgul is only half-Greyhound, he tries to kill him but Furgul escapes into the wild.
  • The Wild Road is about a pet kitten named Tag who begins having prophetic dreams. He goes on a journey to bring the queen and king of cats to Tintagel before the spring equinox.
  • The children's book Dear Hound is about a Deerhound puppy named Alfie who gets loose and gets lost in a forest. He survived on scraps of food from garbages and is helped by a pair of foxes until he returns home.

Feedback: 12 replies

Feb 5th 2017 at 2:54:36 PM

Film - Live Action

  • Homeward Bound The Incredible Journey: Two dogs and a cat are left on a farm while their owners are on vacation, but not understanding they think their family is in trouble and escape to trek hundreds of miles across the Sierras to return home.

Feb 5th 2017 at 10:47:54 PM

  • Added punctuation (periods at the ends of sentences).
  • Examples section
    • Capitalized (tv).
    • Corrected spelling (exacuated, choses).

Mar 24th 2017 at 4:55:45 AM

Compare... that trope about escaped zoo animal.

May 19th 2017 at 3:07:04 PM

^ No, I mean like Madagascar where Leo and friends adjust to the wild after running away from the zoo.

Jun 26th 2017 at 1:01:18 AM

  • Examples section
    • Corrected spelling (ethuanised).
    • De-capitalized (Siamese Cat -> Siamese cat).

Jul 8th 2017 at 3:29:51 PM

Sorry, was going to suggest an example but I realised it had already been added.

Jul 10th 2017 at 2:27:28 PM

Would probably fit under Television Is Trying To Kill Us. Maybe add a disclaimer saying why setting a pet into the wild is a very bad idea.