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Cuddly Critters Come in All Shapes and Sizes
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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Diane Dash

If you’re looking for a rabbit, bird, guinea pig, rat, hamster, chicken, fish, or non-poisonous snake then hop, scamper or waddle to the Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS) in Ballard.

Executive Director Don Jordan, an 11-year veteran of the sheltering industry says an increasing number of citizens are bringing SAS various species, often because there are no other options. “We’ve evolved into an organization that wants to fulfill the needs of the community,” says Jordan. In response to this need SAS has developed a volunteer team that helps with the care and specialized needs of these animals.

Although some individuals and organizations frown upon making creatures that are not traditionally domesticated into pets SAS tries to not pass judgment on these choices. “The reality is when people are interested in having a certain type of pet they’ll get it somewhere. It’s better to get it as a rescue from a shelter” claims Jordan.

At times though, the shelter will get animals that are not suitable as pets, such as primates or a 14-foot python. A few years ago two servals were found as strays. As these 40 lb. African wild cats are illegal to own their guardians never came forward to claim them. The specialized diets and care required for exotics often necessitates working with zoos to secure the most appropriate environment. “We work hard at proper placement,” says Jordan, whose organization also places domestic animals in sanctuaries if they are unadoptable.

Critter Volunteers

A special team of volunteers works on the small animal “Critter Team.” They perform various duties such as cleaning, feeding, socialization, researching health or behavioral issues, or helping to find the right homes.

Critter Team Leader Suzanne Rubins has been involved in rescuing and fostering rabbits for 10 years. When she heard SAS was forming a small animal program she was anxious to get involved. For a number of years Rubins has been performing various duties including coordinating the approximately 10 volunteers on the team, setting up foster and vet care, organizing publicity and outreach events, and helping other small animal rescue groups by doing repair projects or setting up habitats. “What I mostly do is try to have someone there everyday to make sure the animals get handled and socialized. We also donate all the fresh food.” This includes tofu, which unlike some humans, rodents apparently find quite delectable.

With the exception of farm animals, Rubins believes, “Small animals make wonderful pets for people living in the city. They’re great apartment pets because they’re clean, small, quiet, and fit well into a working adult’s schedule. They rest during the day and then want to interact in the evening. Ironically, people think of them as only for children, but they’re very enjoyable for adults.” In fact, because they are small and delicate prey species they’re often not the best choice for children, who are disappointed if the pet finds their behavior stressful.

Critter Education

People often surrender their animals due to improper expectations-whether they be dog, cat or iguana. With some animals their needs may change as they grow into adulthood (feeding an adult snake live prey is something many of us would find uncomfortable). In response to this need in the community SAS has also moved into the arena of small animal education.

Periodic workshops are offered to teach potential adoptees about different types of small animals, including their temperaments and characteristics. Topics such as habitat, diet, health, and proper handling techniques are covered. Prey animals temperament is based on the fact they could become someone’s lunch at any moment, therefore they are instinctively aware of their surroundings. They need to be picked up from below so they can climb and explore on their own and not feel trapped. 

Realistic expectations are also important. Before adoptions are made care and caretaker roles are discussed. Generally parents must be primarily responsible for the pet, especially if the children are small. And attention and play time are just as important as with larger companion animals as many pets will get depressed if they’re left alone for long periods. (Rubins recommends guinea pigs as the best pet for kids as their care and behavior can be less demanding than other species.) 

Although ferrets, pigs and wolf-hybrids are generally sent to rescue or sanctuaries SAS will also adopt out chinchillas, hedgehogs, sugar gliders, ducks, roosters, turtles and iguanas as available.

For More Information

Critter Team workshops will be held on June 16 and July 21. To donate food, toys, cages or to become a Critter Team foster home or on-site volunteer please contact the Seattle Animal Shelter. To donate to the Help the Animals Fund or find out more about the SAS  please visit their website at seattleanimalshelter.org or call 206-386-PETS (7387).

Diane Dash works to educate the public about animal issues and how they affect human beings. She has many years shelter experience and many more as a voice for the voiceless and furry, feathered or finned.

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