Fans push to reunite magpie and dog ‘besties,’ separated by authorities

Peggy and Molly are typical best friends. They hang out. Play. Sunbathe.

But in one important way, they are an unusual pair: Peggy is a dog, and Molly is a magpie.

A couple in Queensland, Australia, rescued Molly in 2020 after she fell from a nest. The magpie — a highly intelligent species that’s part of the crow family — bonded with their Staffordshire terrier, Peggy, and became somewhat of a social media celebrity.

Through their Instagram account @peggyandmolly, the couple, Juliette Wells and Reece Mortensen, chronicles the dog and magpie’s daily adventures for 730,000 followers. They also published a book about Peggy and Molly, and sell calendars and postcards featuring the duo.

But Peggy and Molly’s rising popularity also attracted the attention of wildlife authorities. Authorities successfully demanded that Molly be surrendered into their care after receiving complaints from members of the public, saying that Wells and Mortensen did not have the proper permits to look after a wild bird.

Fans of Peggy and Molly are now mobilizing to get the pair reunited.

“Help us in our fight to return Molly the magpie home,” said Mortensen in a video posted to their Instagram page, asking their followers to email their local members of Parliament and officials at the Department of Environment, Science and Innovation (DESI) about their case. An online petition had over 76,000 signatures late Thursday.

After the public outcry, Queensland Premier Steven Miles said Thursday that wildlife authorities stand “ready to train Molly’s parents to be wildlife caregivers, to get them the right certification, so Molly can be reunited with her family.”

“What I’m most interested in here is what’s in the best interests of that animal,” said Miles, who is the head of government in the northeastern Australian state. “There has to be a way within the rules to see Molly live out a happy life with her family.”

Though wildlife regulation in Queensland states that “some exotic and native birds may be kept privately,” only licensed volunteer wildlife caregivers can keep and look after injured wild animals long-term. A DESI spokesperson told ABC that Molly the magpie was “taken from the wild and kept unlawfully with no permit, licence or authority.”

Though Molly’s owners said they did “everything in our power” to obtain the right permits and training, they surrendered Molly to DESI this month.

Wells and Mortensen argue it’s in Molly’s best interest to stay with them. “We are asking why a wild magpie can’t decide for himself where he wants to live and who he wants to spend his time with,” they wrote on Instagram.

Peggy and Molly are the latest animals to get caught up in tensions between pet owners and wildlife authorities. Social media videos of animals exhibiting unusual or humanlike behavior are growing in popularity, but experts say many wild animals are not meant to live in domesticated settings, and have warned about risks to the animals and their owners due to the spread of disease.

Wells said she was walking outside in the fall of 2020 when she came across a baby magpie that had fallen from its nest. She rescued it from “certain death,” she said, and brought the magpie home.

“Peggy needed something to nurture and Molly needed nurturing,” says a website about their story, and the duo became “besties.”

About a year later, Peggy had five puppies. Molly “became very close to all” of them, and “now has an incredible bond” with one of them, named Ruby, according to the website.

In the past three-and-a-half years, near-daily videos posted on the @peggyandmolly Instagram account have shown Molly, Peggy and Ruby sharing toys and napping next to each other in the sun — and suggest that the magpie even learned to imitate Peggy and Ruby’s bark.

In another video, Molly puts a wing over its friend on a dog bed.

Though the videos are popular, Wells said multiple complaints have been made to authorities about Molly’s situation. Cat Coakes, a wildlife caregiver who told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation she complained to DESI about Molly, said animals should not be used as “clickbait.”

“In the long-term it’s not going to want to stay and play with pets — it’s a magpie,” Coakes told ABC.

Australian authorities have warned the public that some magpies can be “aggressive towards people” when defending their nests, particularly during what’s known as “magpie swooping season,” typically between July and November. Videos of Australians being chased by magpies have gone viral, and the Queensland government has warned the public to “stay safe from swooping magpies.”

Now, Molly is in the care of DESI, which is investigating the magpie’s case. A spokesperson told ABC that “animals in rehabilitation must not associate with domestic animals due to the potential for them to be subjected to stress and the risks of behavioural imprinting and transmission of diseases.”

“Unfortunately,” the spokesperson added, in Molly’s case, the bird “has been highly habituated to human contact and is not capable of being released back into the wild.”

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