Are there specific duties that you regularly perform during your hours at the
I am in every Wednesday morning for cleaning duties. During cleaning, I do a quick health check of the animals. I assist the staff with giving medications to small animals. I may make moves of the animals to allow for more exposure, more room, to separate animals, or make introductions. I volunteer with the monthly orientation team 4-5 times a year. This entails giving a tour of the shelter for new volunteers to expose them to all the jobs where we need their help. Twice monthly I volunteer as a mentor in training new small animal volunteers.
I am in the shelter at least one other day a week. I pop in to assist with medications, perform behavior assessments on rabbits, answer questions from the public, grooming of animals and socializing of rabbits. I work at home on specific projects. I maintain Petfinder pages for rabbits. That entails taking interesting pictures to show off our rabbits, writing profiles with another SATF [Small Animal Task Force] member, and keeping the website updated.
I also work on education about small animals. That may include posters, speaking to groups, and manning a table at an event. This year I presented at the New England Humane Society Conference with staffer Sheri Gustafson on Troubleshooting Rabbits. Monthly, I am an invited guest at SARL for taping of their community TV show Time For Animals. I showcase one of our rabbits and talk about their care. I am actively involved in the foster program for small animals. I foster rabbits, the group of small animals that need the most foster care. I also make and donate catnip mats and catnip toys to sell for retail throughout the year.
2. What kinds of small
animals are you and the Small Animal Task Force (SATF) responsible for?
The SATF is responsible for all animals in the shelter other than cats and dogs. We all have our specialties, but with time we become quite knowledgeable about the other animals we offer for adoption. We can be a valuable asset when dealing with the public.
There is such a diversity of small animal species. Is there a big learning
curve when caring for so many different kinds of animals?
There is a big learning curve because of the diversity of the small animals in our shelter. Most of us come in with at least some basic knowledge of the common animals, such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils and rats. We are seeing more often chinchillas, degus, lizards and large birds. The internet allows us to get up to speed quickly so we can care for the animals properly and converse with the public with confidence.
How long have you been with the MSPCA?
I started with the shelter in 1996. My aunt was a volunteer and pulled me in. I began as a dog walker in the old shelter. After about four years, I switched to small animals. I knew very little at that time about them, but with the staff’s help and hands on experience, I quickly came on board. We didn’t have anywhere near the numbers or variety of animals then. With the new building, we are able to accommodate more animals.
Have you always worked with animals?
The shelter was my first experience with working with animals. I had animals growing up as a child and adopted a dog from the shelter before volunteering. After my dog passed away, I adopted a rabbit we named Harvey. Without exaggeration, I can say I am very passionate now about small animals!
How did your interest in small animals develop?
I stopped walking dogs when I had a leg injury. I still wanted to help, so I switched to small animals. At the time, they were located in the lobby of our old shelter. It was a very noisy, busy place—not the most conducive for small animals. While cleaning, I noticed the animals each had their own unique personalities. I began thinking of ways to enrich their lives while at the shelter. We didn’t have the space to let them all run. That has been my goal ever since—enrichment and comfort. There is such a need with small animals that I have kept that my focus.
7. I can imagine that a
large surrender, such as August’s case involving over sixty rabbits and
chinchillas, turns the shelter upside down. Specifically, how do you and the
Small Animal Task Force fit in these animals on top of all the other animals
The SATF was formed in 2005 by Director Mike Keiley. Mike saw a need for a specialized group of volunteers to assist the staff where they didn’t have the time. We are involved in almost all facets of a small animal’s stay in our shelter. The SATF has currently nine volunteer members and several staff. Sheri Gustafson is the staff member assigned to head the group.
In July, when the large surrender occurred, the SATF mobilized to assist with receiving the animals, doing a quick check and setting them up in cages. Since then, the SATF has played an invaluable role to staff assisting with the increase in cleaning, giving medications, getting them up on Petfinder, grooming, fostering, talking to the public and promoting through posters and events. We all rallied together to get the job done. And we still are. We continue to deal with 14 of the original rabbits, looking for new ways to promote them to the public. The remaining rabbits were the sickest of the group with the upper respiratory infection, so it has been a challenge. As far as space, we have been very creative in the past when needed. Fortunately, we have great relations with other shelters and are usually able to transfer animals when we are full to the rafters!
some of the small animals take longer to find forever homes for than animals
like dogs and cats do?
Rabbits take anywhere from a day to a year to be adopted. As with cats and dogs, there is no magic number for how long we keep an animal. In general, most rabbits are adopted within a three month window. In 2009, we took in over 300 rabbits. Our adoption rate was 85%--quite high. That percentage has been increasing each year since the new building was opened and the SATF formed. Of course, there are animals which take longer to find a home. The SATF does fostering to work on behavioral issues. We have been very successful in transforming frightened, cage aggressive rabbits into loving companions.
Is there a foster care program in place for small animals at the shelter?
A fostering program was started after the formation of the SATF in 2005. At the time, the staff wasn’t sure if fostering would be a viable option. Our numbers in house are constantly in flux, and there was concern there may not be room for returning fosters. We have been able to quell those fears with setting up behavior assessments, so we foster those rabbits which would have a high success rate. These animals are usually adopted within a short period.
We also foster baby rabbits and their moms. Babies must stay with their mothers for 8 weeks, so it is a long-term commitment for a foster volunteer. Not all foster volunteers are members of the SATF.
10. Do people interested in
working with small animals need special training or education?
When I work orientation, I always tell new volunteers we are looking for people who can work hard and are willing to learn. You do not need to know the basics of small animals. That can be taught. Many times we get dog or cat owners volunteering for small animals since we have such a great need for people. They are just as passionate about small animals once they get to know them!
11. What’s the hardest part about being a member of the Small Animal Task Force?
Since we are volunteers, we have our free time being pulled in many different directions in our lives. Most of our members work full time along with volunteering. I wish there were more hours in the day to get done what we need to. I am grateful and amazed for all that our group does with such a small number of members.
12. As a long-time volunteer,
what do you find so rewarding about shelter work that makes you so dedicated to
your work there?
I love the fact that I can take almost any rabbit out of their cage and they will respond with kindness to me. That means it is a happy animal. I work hard to give these animals a clean, safe and comfortable space while awaiting adoption.
That is important with all our small animals from the tiny mouse to the chinchilla. I take care to make sure their stay with us is the best it can be. I am most satisfied when I see them go home. I feel I lend my voice to these animals. If I see a wrong, I work to correct it. If I see an area of improvement, I work to make it happen. These animals depend on us and it’s imperative that we don’t let them down.