It’s been a long while since we’ve posted, but as many of you find, there’s just not that much time to spare these days. Rescue always gets harder when the economy is this bad. There are fewer people adopting animals, fewer people donating money, fewer people with time to foster, and many, many more animals being surrendered. The animals we do take in, stay with us longer and cost more money.
It’s unfortunate, but not surprising. With people struggling to make ends meet for themselves, they often find that they are faced with tough choices regarding their pets. People who have to work a second job find that they don’t have extra time to spend caring for their pets. People without a job don’t have money to put food on their own table, much less pay for pet food and vet bills. People are moving to smaller apartments, sometimes moving in with roomates, and their landlord either doesn’t allow pets, or they just don’t have room.
Unfortunately this also means that when an owner decides they have to rehome their pet, the prospects are not good.
Most people first try to find a new home through Craigslist or similar methods. From what we hear, this isn’t working any more – there are SO many animals available that it’s hard to find any takers, much less one you trust with a beloved pet. If your pet is older or has special needs, it’s almost impossible to find someone willing to shoulder the burden when there’s also so many babies available.
The next step is usually for the owner to contact a shelter. But most shelters are at or above capacity and are euthanizing at a higher than normal rate. The statistics are staggering: “Last year , at least 305,222 dogs and cats were dropped off at North Carolina shelters, and 214,475 were euthanized. The cost of handling all those animals is nearly $30 million. The real numbers are likely higher, because only 73 of 100 counties had reported their 2010 data to state government as of February.” (Source) Some shelters are outright refusing to accept animals, especially exotics like guinea pigs and rabbits, leaving owners seemingly without options.
So what can you do?
The first option is always to try to keep your pet. Fortunately, with a little ingenuity, it can be done! We’ve heard from scores of owners who have given up trying to rehome their pets and found many clever methods to keep them, and we wanted to share some of the ideas they’ve shared with us.
If space is an issue…
If you don’t have room for a grand 3′x7′ C&C cage anymore, that’s not necessarily a reason to give up your pets. Bigger is better, but if the choice is euthanasia, we’d rather see you keep your pets in a smaller space.
- For rabbits, use an expandable dog exercise pen as their cage. Fold it down to 2′x4′ or smaller when you’re home and need the extra space, but unfold it to give them room to exercise when you’re asleep or at work. Maybe you don’t have a rabbit-proof room that they can run around in anymore? Consider using a hallway, bathroom, or kitchen. Even though these spaces maybe aren’t as big as they were used to, as long as they can run back and forth a little, that may be enough for them. Again, just try to schedule their exercise for a time when you aren’t using that space. Jessica writes, “we hardly have any space in this apartment, but my husband lets me use his home office for the buns to run around in on Sundays while he’s watching sports. There’s tons of cords everywhere, so we just put a big fence around the edges and they can run around in the middle. It’s only once a week but they clearly benefit from it.”
- Guinea pigs can also accommodate to flexible caging that expands when you’ve got room. Sally writes: “I moved in with two roommates and one is allergic so I had to keep my guinea pigs in my bedroom, but it’s so tiny that I didn’t have anywhere to put their cage. Then I realized their C&C cage fits under the bed! When I leave for work, I pull it out, flip up the grids, and put them in it. They have to go back in a petstore cage when I get home but they get 8 hours a day in their old piggy palace.” Another owner wrote that she put her rat’s cage in a walk-in closet – “I just have to make sure I leave the door open when I leave so they get some sunlight.”
- If you can’t sleep with pets in the bedroom, we’ve heard of plenty of other creative cage locations. One adopter built a shelf above her front-loading washer & dryer for the pig cage. Another realized that they rarely use their dining room table, so the pigs are now underneath – “we almost always eat in the kitchen, anyhow. For holidays we just move the cage for a day or two.” One especially creative family assembled their kids’ old bunk-bed in the TV room above the television, and put their pigs’ C&C cage on the top bunk! “We have to use a stepstool to clean it, but it means they’re out with family and get more attention, and we enjoy watching their antics even more than watching TV.”
If time is an issue…
“I just don’t have the time to give them the attention they need” is the most common reason we hear from people needing to surrender their pets. But really, as long as you have time to feed them, clean them, and give them once-a-week health checks, they’ll still be healthy and happy without daily cuddle time.
- Most small animals are usually perfectly happy without human attention, as long as they have a same-species companion. It may seem counter-intuitive, but maybe adopting a friend for your single piggy or bunny will lessen the time you have to spend with them, rather than increase it. One adopter wrote “I had to take a job where I travel every week and although my husband was good at keeping him fed and cleaned, [my bunny] Snickers just wasn’t getting any attention. Then I adopted Hershey to be his friend and I don’t feel so bad now because they have each other.”
- You can also save time by changing your petcare routine a little. Most people find that using cage blankets or fleece as bedding requires less cleaning time than using wood shavings. If you normally feed your pets in the morning when you’re already rushed, try doing their big feeding at night instead. Using an extra big hay manger or two water bottles may give you the peace of mind to skip an extensive morning routine. Rather than making their salad every day, spend an hour on the weekend cutting up veggies, and package it in multiple single serving tupperwares so it’s quicker to distribute during the busy work week!
If food bills are an issue…
Guinea pigs and rabbits mostly eat grass, so why does it seem like their food is so expensive?! Here’s some tips to cut food costs:
- Buy hay in bulk. It doesn’t go bad as long as you keep it dry so it doesn’t mold, and keep it cool and out of sunlight so it doesn’t go brown. A 50-lb box of hay costs $50, which is a dollar per pound. A 40-oz bag (2.5lbs) costs $8, which is over $3 per pound! 50 lbs should last two pigs or rabbits about 6 months so it’s not a frequent expense – that makes it worth the hassle of a long drive or ordering online if you don’t have a supplier near you who can get the big boxes.
- Start a hay co-op. Check with your local shelter or rescue – where do they get their hay, and can you buy some from them? Some rescues buy in bulk from local growers and are willing to resell at incredible discounts. You can also search for other owners in your area and go in together on bulk purchases from online retailers like Kleenmama’s Hayloft. This can often give you huge savings on shipping charges!
- Find veggies at your local farmer’s market or community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm. Veggies are much cheaper when they’re locally grown, because there’s no transport or distribution costs; your money goes right to the farmer. You might even be able to exchange litterbox compost for veggies! Search for local CSAs here.
- Check the grocery stores for discount veggies. Grocers have to sort their produce at least once a day to remove items which are going bad or are too bruised to sell. Stop in on your way home and ask the produce manager if you can have some of what they’re throwing away! You may have to do a bit of sorting to find the peppers and romaine among the onions and cabbages, but it’s definitely worth it. Bagged salad mix is an especially easy thing to find – has to be thrown away by the printed expiration date, but it’s usually still perfectly fresh. Just don’t feed the kinds that have iceberg lettuce in them.
- Reduce pellets. Because pellets are the most “processed” of pig and rabbit foods, it’s the most expensive per unit. The more hay and veggies you feed, the less pellets you need. Reducing pellets can also reduce vet bills by reducing the incidence of bladder stones and tooth problems.
If vet bills are an issue…
Speaking of vet bills – the most expensive part of owning an animal, this is also the hardest cost to control, but these tips can get you started:
- Prevention is cheaper than treatment. It’s always cheaper to provide preventative care than to provide emergency care, so don’t let health fall by the wayside, even when times are toughest. Weigh your pets EVERY week to spot illness early. Feed a good diet to prevent the leading illnesses, which are obesity, tooth malocclusion, and bladder stones. If you think your pet is sick, get treatment immediately, rather than waiting to see if it will “just get better”. It usually won’t, and the treatment costs usually triple if you wait till the animal is visibly ill.
- Start an emergency fund. Put one, five, or ten dollars a week – whatever you can possibly spare – into an emergency vet fund. Giving up just one venti frappachino per week can give you a nest egg of over $250 in one year! If you’re crafty, you might find a unique way to raise a little money – several of our friends have started selling craft items on Etsy to help build up a little extra cash for their pets’ vet needs.
- Find a vet before you need one. If you aren’t already on a first-name basis with your vet, you should be! Just talk to them. Find out which clinics extend credit or offer payment plans. Find out which emergency clinics see small exotics, and which ones are cheapest for the initial consult. Don’t hesitate to look outside your immediate area – if an hour’s drive to a distant vet saves you $200, that’s more than worth the extra gas you spend!
- Check your local shelter for vetcare options. Some shelters and rescues offer free nail trim clinics, low-cost spay or neuter, and even free wellness checks. They sometimes don’t advertise these services except for cats and dogs, so you may have to do some phone work to find which ones also provide services to pocket pets. Some even offer low-cost euthanasia and cremation services, in case your pet is very ill.
- Take advantage of your vet school. If you live near a vet school you’re living on a gold mine. They frequently offer free or dramatically reduced care services if you’ll let your pet be treated by a student doctor. You may not feel comfortable with this if your pet has a serious illness, but use this resource for preventative wellness visits, it’s like getting a free checkup!
We hope this information is helpful to you, and we’d love to hear your other suggestions or stories of how you made these ideas work for you.
We received an inquiry today that I thought I would share:
Hi I’m curious why so much money for a sick hedgehog?
I would like to get more information on Emma who I found on Petfinder.com: http://petfinder.com/petdetail/18594889
Sent from my iPod
We often receive emails like this, trying to dicker prices with us, or asking why our prices are “so expensive”. We responded to her email explaining why we charge what we do:
Hi Tammy, and thanks for your inquiry. Since you’re surfing from your iPod, you may not be able to correctly read all of Emma’s story. As noted in the first paragraph in bright red writing:
Note! Emma is currently undergoing medical treatment and won’t be available for adoption until she’s healthy. She is listed only so we can try to find her a forever home to go to when she’s well!
This means that Emma will not be available to go home until she completes her medical care. (Ie, until she is no longer “sick”.)
On average each animal we rescue costs us approximately $250 in veterinary bills and boarding. This ranges from the smallest mouse (adopted out at $5), to the most expensive animals like parrots. We average a loss of $100 per animal for each animal that we rehome. These animals are abandoned at local shelters and directly with our rescue, typically because negligent owners buy them as pets and are unprepared or unwilling to spend money on them when they become ill.
Our adoptions fees are designed to help defray some of the cost of making sure that these exotic animals receive care and do not suffer horribly and die from neglect. Because of this, we must spend our own money out of pocket in order to afford this medical care. Of the approximate $15,000 our organization spent on veterinary care last year, over 50% came directly from our board members.
While it would be nice to offer these homeless animals “cheaply”, in the end it does them a terrible disservice as people looking for “bargains” decide that they can now afford a ‘used’ hedgehog. These types of homes typically are unaware of the expensive husbandry needs of exotic species, and we feel that it is unfair to take an already neglected and abandoned animal and place them directly back into the situation from which they escaped.
If you wish to support our cause without adoption, please feel free to donate directly to us at allcreaturesrescue.org
Thank you for your continued support!
ACR&S does make it their policy to seek veterinary care for all animals that they take in, and to be completely up front and honest about any issues an animal may have. We realize that in the case of animals with chronic behavioral or health issues that this may mean they’re with us for a long time — even for the rest of their lives. But we are committed to providing care for those animals that have been failed once already by those unwilling to provide basic husbandry.
ACR&S is lucky to work with many wonderful veterinarians. Most of our animals owe their lives and health to vets who have donated time, supplies, knowledge, and money to provide care above and beyond what we might hope for. Now it’s time for us to help pay them back!
One of our vets in particular, Dr Lauren Powers, also devotes a good amount of her time to furthering the science of companion animal medicine by publishing research papers about some of the cases she’s seen. It’s all well and good for a vet to be knowledgeable and to learn from her experiences, but sharing that knowledge with other vets is critical to improving the ability of ALL vets to care for these difficult cases. The primary way for vets to share their knowledge is through peer reviewed research papers published in veterinary medicine journals.
Dr Powers has had a case involving a young rat named Dylan, who had a very unusual illness – one that has possibly never yet been described in medical journals. We’d like to help Dr Powers get his case published so that other rats can be helped, by letting other vets read about Dylan and Dr Powers’ efforts to save him.
Dylan first came to Dr Powers with very low blood glucose. He did not respond to treatment. This is typically a sign of insulinomas, which are tumors that secrete insulin. Dr Powers did every test she could, but his condition got so bad that he had to be euthanized, and Dr Powers did indeed find a tumor when she did a necropsy on him. This is a rare spontaneous tumor in rats, but it’s not unheard of – it’s known that they do occur in rats. However, further testing of Dylan’s tumor found that it is NOT an insulinoma – if the results are correct, this means Dylan had a relatively new form of pancreatic tumor (somatostatinoma, or mixed tumor). Dylan may have survived with successful surgery.
Dr Powers has spent a significant amount of her own personal money to diagnose and treat Dylan and to get the initial examination of his tumor. She needs one more analysis which will be done at Michigan State University (MSU) to confirm the nature of the tumor. That analysis costs $450, and ACR&S has promised to help Dr Powers raise the money so that this analysis can be done and the study can be published. This way, Dylan’s illness will not be in vain. Other rats may be presenting with similar symptoms and are dying because their vets don’t know it could be a somatostatinoma: since there is no report of this occurring in the veterinary literature, the vets don’t know that this is a possibility and don’t attempt to treat it. Additionally, description of a somatostatinoma in a rat might even help human doctors understand the occurrence of similar tumors in people! For all these reasons, we feel that getting Dylan’s results published is critically important.
One of ACR&S’ board members has pledged $50, so we are already part way there! If we can get just 20 people to donate $20 each, or 40 people to donate $10 each, we’ll make it in no time! All we need is some help from anyone who loves rats, or wants to help vets have a better understanding of how to diagnose and treat cancer. If you have loved and lost a rattie with cancer, please consider giving.
You can make your donation through PayPal – just use the link at the top of the page or log into your PayPal account and send money to email@example.com. This will be a tax-deductible charitable donation and you will receive a receipt to use on your taxes. Additionally, ACR&S’ board members will absorb the PayPal fees, so 100% of your donation amount will be sent to Dr Powers and MSU. You can also send a check directly to ACR&S or MSU, just email us to get the mailing address.
Even if you can’t donate, spread the word, and hug your little ratties in memory of Dylan for us!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but that doesn’t mean the rescue hasn’t been busy. We’re just too busy to write much!
2010 was a great year for the rescue: we placed nearly 100 animals. That’s astonishing to me. It’s the most we’ve ever placed in the nearly 10 year history of ACR&S; twice as many as our next-best year and over three times what we budget for every year! Fortunately, we’ve had more support than ever from adopters, donors, and foster homes, so we have reached this great milestone without too much financial hardship.
2010 was a much harder year in terms of losing animals, especially our older Sanctuary residents. We started the year with 14 guinea pigs in the Sanctuary. We ended it with only four; the lowest number of piggies I have had since I started guinea pig rescue in September 2001. I haven’t been able to bring myself to blog about the losses for several months; after this much time with them, losing them is more of a matter for personal, private grief.
However, so many people have been involved in this piggie’s life, that I feel it’s important to share: We said goodbye to Sadie last night. She was originally rescued and placed by our friends at Cave Springs in Virginia, back in 2005. In 2008 she and her partner were returned by their adopter, and due to their location, we ended up picking them up in North Carolina. At around 5 years old, it was felt that they wouldn’t be adoptable, so we transferred them to the Sanctuary in Wisconsin a year later.
Chester passed earlier in 2010 and Sadie was re-bonded with Tug, the last remaining resident from the Jacksonville 48 rescue in 2005.
Sadie started having trouble with bladder stones this past summer. We kept her on a very careful diet, which reduced the frequency and severity, but once stones start to occur, they come back again and again. She also had severe arthritis and we’ve been fighting an increasingly difficult battle of pain management.
We have been able to have all of her stones flushed out, but this last one was too big. The vet also felt that her age (she’s pushing 7, if not 8 ) she was not a good candidate for the extensive surgery and long recovery that would be required to remove it. We let her go yesterday evening. Her pain is gone now.
Now Tug is alone again, sharing a divided 3′x7′ cage with Dozer and Skunky, a pair of 4 year olds who were born in the rescue and never adopted. He’s pushing seven years himself, and having recurrent tooth problems that require twice monthly trims. I honestly didn’t expect him to outlive Sadie. Dozer had a thyroid tumor removed last summer, but otherwise he and Skunky are healthy.
I have just one guinea pig cage now, for the first time in nearly a decade.
Just three pigs, who all entered the rescue and never left it. None of them ever received a single adoption application. They’re all pigs that nobody else ever wanted.
They’re all I have left.
A belated happy ending shout out to Mr. H. R. Puffnstuff for finding his forever home! Lindsay and Desiree were looking for a companion for their piggie, Rupert. The initial introductions were pretty rough — Rupert was kind of a brat, and got a lot of enjoyment out of pestering poor Puff, but soon they settled down to share a palatial two story C&C!
Thank you again for making his forever ever a happy one!
For those of you not in our area (NC), let me inform you that we’ve been having record setting temperatures here for the past month or so. The heat index is routinely reaching 105°F, and warnings are all over television asking people to stay out of the heat. Unfortunately, while the people readily comply with this, they often forget about their companions, especially rabbits and guinea pigs.
These species suffer greatly in the hot weather, being naturally equipped for dealing with cold temperatures much more readily than heat. Each year, we get numerous calls from people asking for medical advice for their ailing guinea pigs and rabbits who have been kept outside in “hutches”, and invariably our recommendations to bring the animals in are rejected because “wild rabbits are fine” or “he’s been fine for all these years”. People unfortunately believe that the wildlife is not suffering from the heat simply because there are no wild rabbits dying in their direct line of vision, and that an animal’s ability to survive despite lack of adequate care means that they are ‘fine’.
At a recent adoption event we conducted, a woman stopped by with her daughter and inquired about adopting a rabbit as a companion for her elderly bunny. She then hesitated for a moment, and asked if we had any advice about keeping her bunny cool in the summer, as he had started having problems with the heat. We recommended making sure he had frozen water bottles and tiles to sleep on and making sure that his cage was in a part of the house receiving good air circulation from the air conditioning. She admitted that he was an outdoor rabbit. When we entreated her to bring in her elderly bunny who was suffering from the heat (by her own admission), she said that she could not, because she had read on the internet that they would get “used” to the air conditioning, and then could not be put back outside. Besides, she assured us, he was doing fine as he was a very tough bunny. He had outlived two cagemates! Two thirds of her pets had died outside from preventable problems, yet she refused to bring in her poor elderly rabbit so that he could at least enjoy the twilight of his life in comfort.
We have also had people inform us that they did not need to bring in their animals until there was a problem, and that they would happily seek vet care if something did happen, and then they would move their pet inside. Vet care is not a guarantee of survival. Friend of ACR&S Cindy wrote us with a sad story about a pig named Copper that she rescued from an outdoor home:
Received a call from my vet’s office saying that someone had left their pig out in 100-degree weather and had brought him in with severe heat stroke. When my vet told the owner he had to keep his pig inside, the owner told the receptionists he couldn’t do it and needed to find a new home. So they called me. Before I knew the situation, I told them I was in contact with a rescue, but when I learned that the guinea pig was once at a day care and then ended up with a family who left him outside, I couldn’t say no. I adopted him Saturday after he’d been at the vet’s overnight for observation, receiving fluids, etc., and after the owner came and signed him over to the vet.
It is with extreme sadness that I report that Copper didn’t make it. I’ve lost track of how many weeks of 90 and 100-degree weather (and heat indexes) we’ve had, but Copper’s former owner left him out the whole time <sniff>. I think that probably Copper’s systems were beginning to shut down little by little until he finally was flat out, and the man (I use the term loosely) finally got him to the vet. Copper perked up quickly with fluid therapy and with being in the incubator, and we were so excited to adopt him. However, during the weekend, he didn’t want to eat, so my husband and I began hydrating him with a slurry of pellets and water and also with homemade Pedialyte (with no-sugar-added cranberry juice substituted for sugar). He began to perk up, and on Monday, when I was going to take him back to the vet for a checkup, he ate breakfast on his own and was doing so well I thought he was out of the woods. Monday afternoon he was eating carrot pieces and grabbing the slurry syringe. Then Tuesday morning he had totally gone downhill. I rushed him to the vet’s, but we sadly had to help him to the Bridge yesterday afternoon.
I am at a loss to understand how Copper could have been left outside.
We had so hoped he would have some happy years with us. I do think he had some good, though brief, times — he liked sitting on my husband’s stomach and in the crook of my elbow. A friend who met him Monday night thought he was sweet, alert, and very handsome.
Please make sure your guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, chinchillas, and other small animals remain inside, especially for the summer. Additionally, be aware of your animal’s changing needs as they age. An older animal cannot tolerate the same temperature extremes as a healthy animal in the prime of life. The same goes for very young animals. Often our most heartbreaking calls are from otherwise excellent owners who took their beloved pet outside to play, not realizing that event 15-20 minutes of this extreme heat can cause heat stroke/exhaustion.
If your house is older and prone to hot spots, even with air conditioning, make sure your animals are well ventilated. Use fans to help circulate air (make sure you don’t point them directly at the cages), provide frozen water bottles or tiles that have been placed in the freezer so your animals can cool off, and if you suspect a problem, seek vet care immediately!
As mentioned earlier in the blog, ACR&S had an influx of baby rats due to an emergency intake from another rescue. These little ones have been very lucky to find forever homes with some of our most amazing adopters.
The first three ratties (named Cherry Bomb, Oreo, and Coffee by their new family) went home to Mike and family just as soon as they weaned. They had a brand new Martin’s cage to come home to and a little miniature human to call their own!
Our next pair, Bustopher and Casper (formerly Munkustrap), went home to our repeat rattie adopter, Frone. Frone has given many of our beloved ratties a wonderful forever home, and these boys went in to live with Zapp and Kif (adopted last year).
Finally, a trio of ladies went to live with another repeat adopter, Melissa, who has given many of our past rats a wonderful forever home. She chose Cheyenne, Dakota, and Wyoming to join her mischief!
Thank you to our wonderful rat adopters for continuing to give our little ones amazing forever homes!
Charlemagne and Fauntleroy had a rough beginning. They were picked up by ACR&S shortly after being neutered by an inexperienced vet. Both were in rough shape (going into stasis and in a lot of pain), but after several terse hours of nursing, they began to recover normally and we thought they were out of the woods.
Unfortunately, they weren’t. The next day saw their surgical sites hugely inflamed, and we were terrified that they’d herniated. The news was better, but still odd: Fauntleroy still had one testicle, and Charlemagne still had part of one. Nearly a month after their initial neuter, we’d finally got both bunnies healthy and well, and they were on the lookout for a new home.
Enter Jill, their new mom. She saw the boys on Petfinder, and was intrigued. As a new rabbit owner, she liked that the boys were young, healthy, and had pretty good litterbox manners. After a few weeks spent organizing caging, finding a vet, and doing a ton of reading at Rabbit.org, the boys got to come to their new home.
They arrived to a huge box of hay (which her cats also enjoyed — mostly the box), a brand new cage, a playpen, and lots of love. They figured the ramp out pretty quickly, and then managed to break out of their cage almost immediately, but now they are safely contained and having the time of their life!
Thank you Jill for adopting these sweet bunnies and giving them a second chance!
Gloria (sister to Ivy and Noelle, who went home ear
ly this year), remained at our rescue, awaiting her forever home. Alison, mom to Amelia and Sophie, contacted us soon afterwards. Sophie had gone over to the rainbow bridge (a dignified and well loved old lady at over five years of age), and Amelia needed a new friend.
When she saw Gloria’s picture, she knew that was the pig for her! Introductions went well (although Gloria immediately developed runny poo and had a brief course of antibiotics to clear it up). Amelia then had to undergo an emergency spay for a uterine cyst, but last week they were finally able to be put together, and now the two girls are roomates!
Thank you to Alison for giving two of our pigs now a wonderful home!
We lost Douglas last night. He came to us in September of 2008 after having been abandoned in an aquarium at a children’s camp – you can read the full story here. He came in with a giant tumor, and unfortunately our vet felt that it was of a type of tumor highly likely to return. Apparently these tumors pop up pretty quickly – Douglas received a clean bill of health from an excellent vet just a couple weeks ago, but last night I noticed he was drooling and found he had a large, hard lump under his chin. Aspiration revealed it was a large tumor that had started to necrotize in the center. The vet felt that removal of a tumor in this location and in this condition would be very difficult, potentially resulting in serious damage to his lower jaw, so we opted to euthanize rather than put him through that.
Douglas was a beautiful, friendly pig who has been a joy to all his cagemates as well as to every human who has known him. Goodbye, little guy.
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