By Darlene Duggan
All of my posts have been centered on dogs and cats, but what about the other animals that end up in the animal shelter? In most statistics or marketing materials that I have seen, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, snakes, turtles or tortoises, ferrets, fish, lizards, etc., all get lumped together in one category called “other.”
Because dogs and cats dominate the population numbers (for most traditional animal shelters, other animals account for less than 1% of their total intake), statistically I understand the usefulness of keeping all non dog and cats together. However, practically speaking, grouping these animals together certainly does a disservice to them. Could the materials required for housing a rat be the same as a turtle? And, what about maintaining medications and vaccinations for so many different types of animals? Their needs are so varied it is a challenge for animal shelters to provide for them. As a result, shelters have employed creative options for the others. Here are a few:
Give them to other rescues/sanctuaries
Just as shelters will work with rescues to find suitable placements for dogs and cats, they will also employ transfer groups as an option for the other types of animals they receive. There are many rescue groups that specifically cater to the others—groups specializing in the care of rabbits or reptiles, ferrets, or fish. They have experts on staff taking care of the others’ specific needs.
One major benefit of these rescue groups is the consolidation of adoption resources. If only a few groups in town are adopting the others, traditional shelters can funnel interested adopters to those organizations rather than have the other animals available at multiple organizations around town. Having the others with a few organizations also helps with their online adoption presence.
Many forward thinking shelters have created classroom pet adoption programs. Since there is generally less of a demand for the placement of other types of animals, shelters have gotten creative and started connecting with local schools. Teachers sign up for a certain type of classroom pet (i.e., a rabbit, turtle, hamster), prepare the necessary items for the pet, and when an animal of that type is relinquished to the shelter, the teacher is contacted to come and get ‘em!
Danielle Perns, a third grade teacher from Edison Park Elementary School in Chicago has a classroom pet hamster, Coco. In her classroom, students sign up to take turns caring for Coco on the weekends and school holidays including the long summer break. “Having a pet in the classroom allows for a year-long lesson for all my students, teaching them about responsible pet care and compassion for animals. But my favorite part of having Coco is the bonding that my students experience with each other through the communal care and mutual concern for her well-being. This is an especially important lesson for my students that don’t have pets at home to take care of.” If you are interested in learning more about classroom pets, click here for a great resource (including grants for the pets).
Those of us in the animal welfare field know how dear and loved the small and fuzzy, slimy and scaly, and feathery and fluttery are among us all. These other animals are often overshadowed by the dogs and cats that require our constant attention. But, with some creative thinking, shelters have been successful in caring for and rehoming the other animals.
As always, shelters need your assistance—if you are not so much a dog or cat person, but love the bunnies, hamsters, lizards, turtles, or rats that often find themselves in a shelter, I urge you to volunteer at your local humane society or rescue group to contribute to this success for the other animals.
Darlene Duggan worked for many years behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, explores the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry.