1. What was your first experience with animals that had an impact on you?
I’ve always loved animals. My parents were divorced when I was very young, but many years ago my father was a mink rancher. I remember visiting and thinking how unfair it seemed to the mink and how devastated I was to learn what happened to them. Fortunately, my mother loved animals. She and I had pets that we were both devoted to. I grew up with the belief that the animals must be given a voice because so many people just don’t care and readily close their eyes to the hardship of the creatures around them. I never thought I’d be the director of a rescue someday, but now it’s such a part of who I am that I cannot imagine it any other way.
2. When, how, and why did you first get involved with the animal welfare/rights movement?
My husband and I had shared our home with house rabbits for many years and were members of the House Rabbit Society (www.rabbit.org). When we moved to MI we found a great and urgent need for a rabbit rescue as the local humane societies and shelters were vastly overpopulated and not able to provide the specialized care and nutrition that rabbits need to stay happy and healthy. We were able to find several other people that also loved rabbits and wanted to help. Our rescue was formed and has since expanded with more foster families and the ability to help other exotic pets in need including guinea pigs, rats and other small rodents, chinchillas and degus, parrots and smaller birds, and the occasional vegetarian lizard or amphibian.
3. What are your favorite types of animal advocacy activities? Why? (i.e. lobbying, letter-writing, petitions, volunteering, protests, etc.)
Our rescue is composed of an all volunteer network of foster families. As a director, I volunteer about 12 hours a day, 7 days a week including holidays. While we believe adoption is so important in saving lives, educating our fosters, adopters, and the community is vital to helping pets remain healthy and happy in forever homes instead of being abandoned or relinquished. So, my mission to educate never ends and I am always looking for new outlets to tell people about better ways to care for their small pets while encouraging spays/neuters and adoption.
4. What animal issues are you most passionate about?
I am very passionate that adoption and alteration saves lives. Every time someone adopts they are saving not just that pet but the pet their adoption now made room for within our foster program or a shelter.
5. What current animal-related issue or campaign has caught your attention, and why?
February is national Adopt a Shelter Rabbit month. This is followed by the Make Mine Chocolate Campaign which is a national effort by the House Rabbit Society to bring awareness to the fact that live animals should not be given as holiday impulse gifts. The campaign helps to bring light to rabbits being long term commitments (9-12+ years) while providing alterative ideas such as a toy or a chocolate bunny in an Easter basket instead of a real rabbit which will be forgotten in a few short months.
Each year in November rescues across the country are overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of abandoned and relinquished rabbits. November being about 6 months post Easter is when the tiny baby bunnies given as spring gifts are now grown and have hormones. Within six months time, the novelty of having a new pet has worn off for many families. The more people realize that animals are more than just a couple month commitment, we hope that impulse purchases will be discouraged and less rabbits will be abandoned.
6. How do you address animal issues within your career?
Within my role as the director of West Michigan Critter Haven, I try to talk to as many people as possible because I truly have seen that knowledge is power. I encourage people to look around them within their daily lives and find opportunities to educate about proper care and adoption. While I cannot save every pet, if I can bring a higher level of comfort or a healthier existence to a pet by striking up a conversation with someone standing next to me I feel it’s been a successful day.
7. What advice do you have for someone looking to become a more active animal advocate?
I would recommend volunteering for a rescue group you trust. The pets’ lives will be infinitely better because you were able to give them your love and time. We’ve had multiple adopters come back to us and become foster families because they were encouraged by how many lives a few dedicated people can save. Even if you cannot foster, there are so many ways to make a difference. Whether it’s helping to take high quality pictures to be posted for adoption searches, cleaning cages, spending play time with lonely pets or organizing a donation drive for the rescue—you are helping to save lives and make them so much happier.
8. What book, quote, photo, video, story, etc. have you found most inspiring/has inspired you?
The Starfish Story
Original Story by: Loren Eisley
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, What are you doing?
The youth replied, Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.
Son,the man said, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?
You can’t make a difference!
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said
I made a difference for that one.
The star fish story has always inspired me. I’ve had so many people ask why I even try since I can’t save everyone and what does it really matter. I’ve cried myself to sleep countless nights feeling the grief of all the pets I’ve had to turn away that day because we did not have foster home room, but then I’ll look into the face of one of the little ones who I’ve been able to help save. I hear the stories of how an originally terrified pet finally felt brave enough to venture across the room and nudge her foster on the hand for a treat. I’ve read the adopter updates telling how much joy their pet has brought and how they are grateful for their new family member and I feel a great peace in knowing that what I am doing is important and does make a difference each and every day.