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
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
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
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
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
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,
“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.
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.)
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).