By L. Vanessa Gruden
Posted: April 30, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT
© Isabelle Francais/I-5 Publishing
Ferrets in ferret shelters can be helped in many ways, not just by adoption.
I try not to lie (too often), so there’s no use pretending that the best thing you can give a ferret shelter isn’t money. It’s easy to store, doesn’t expire, is accepted everywhere, and enough can fill many needs. That said, few of us have a lot of extra cash these days. So I’m going to suggest some other terrific ways to help homeless ferrets and their caretakers, the shelter directors or operators.
Ferret shelters need help in three main categories: donations, adoptions and volunteering. I’m going to add one more, Special Stuff, because everyone running a ferret shelter deserves a treat once in awhile!
General Wonderful Things
1. Always ask what you can do to help. Each ferret shelter is special and unique. Each operator does things his or her own way, and operators have pet products or peeves. You might be surprised at what is actually helpful and what isn’t.
2. Be patient and understanding. The ferret shelter director you are speaking to may have just had a favorite older ferret euthanized, worked a 14-hour day, or spoke to someone threatening to kill their ferrets if the shelter doesn’t take them today. A good operator will try not to let that affect their next encounter, but we’re only human.
3. Check if it’s a good time to talk before launching into a monologue about Bandit’s every adorable quirk. You might be phoning in the midst of poop-cleaning or dealing with an insulinoma seizure. Only the freshest ferret shelter operators can spend all their time talking about ferrets. To avoid burnout, they need other interests. Better to find a friend who’s happy to "ferret chat.”
Generally, it’s not worth mailing supplies to a ferret shelter. I’ve had used litter boxes mailed to me at my shelter, the Ferret Association of Connecticut (FACT), and I don’t use them! I would have much rather received the $5 spent for postage. Have retailers ship direct or drop goods off.
Perhaps here we should touch on the topic of gift cards. A few ferret shelter operators I spoke to mentioned them; aren't gift cards just money with strings attached? If you want to make plain money look cute, put it in a nice notecard. Now, on to supplies!
4. Paper towels. These should rate a few numbers! Somewhere there may be an eco-minded ferret shelter director using washable cloths, but everyone else uses paper towels in massive quantities. Most ferret shelter directors would love coming home to find an 8-pack of paper towels on the doorstep!
5. Cleansers are truly an individual preference. Susie Lee of the Ferret & Dove Sanctuary likes disposables, such as baby wipes. I have one beloved volunteer with a Swiffer fetish while I, alas, loathe its smell. Other people want to use cleansers they are sure won’t harm pets. So please check before donating cleaning supplies.
6. Food. It’s considered bad for a shelter to starve ferrets. They gotta eat! Ask what food(s) the ferret shelter uses. You may not be able to send 30 pounds direct, but you might pass along a small bag added to your own pet store purchase. As long as it’s fresh, the ferret shelter director may accept an open bag of food you tried but your pets didn’t like.
7. What goes in must come out, so another high priority is litter, litter boxes and newspapers. Remember to ask! Some ferret shelters use boxes, some like specific litters, and some use newspaper instead. Deb Sadowski of Fuzzy Loving Ferrets likes "big cat ones [boxes] with scatter-proof guards.” At FACT, I just put down newspaper in corners. Millie Sanders from Texas Ferret Lover’s Rescue uses folded paper inside boxes.
8. Before you drop off any newspapers, Millie and I agree on this point, pull out the glossy ads! These ads won’t soak up pee; if stepped on by the ferret shelter director, he or she might slide to their death. Also, donated newspapers should be clean.
9. Every ferret shelter uses bedding and hammocks, but not every ferret shelter needs more. Some shelters, including mine, make and sell bedding to raise money. Rather than purchase elsewhere, I love people who place an order to give to our fostered ferrets. Millie has received, and promptly tossed out, "old sweats, T-shirts, other underwear.” Deb, however, accepts slightly used bedding. Note: if it’s ripped, shredded, or filthy beyond the cleaning capability of Maytag’s best, toss it!
10. All ferrets love toys! I love 'em, too, and spend a lot of time slinking through the infant’s department seeking new and cute things the ferrets will drag under the couch. Ferrets aren’t very hard on toys, and they’re happy with a plastic grocery bag. Always ask. Perhaps your local ferret shelter could really use some hanging toys or would love a new drainpipe tunnel.
11. Cages and Carriers. Ferret shelters have different cage needs. Millie uses a special kind that can be connected. She once "gave away a 20-foot flatbed of cages … inappropriate for ferrets.” Other ferret shelters like great big cages or need smaller cages for elderly or sick animals. I don’t use cages (FACT ferrets live in an open room). Shelters may accept cages or pet taxis in good shape for resale, but their capacity for storage will vary. People sometimes really want to donate their old cage — if the shelter doesn’t want them, try a wildlife rehabilitator or local cat shelter. Don’t "donate” an item that is rusted or broken, please!
12. Other accessories. Ferret shelters need new or very gently used items. Millie prefers not to get "tubes of Ferrevite with 50 percent of the stuff on the outside.” It seems like people giving up ferrets sometimes want to be rid of everything ferrety. If unexpired or clean, it can be sold to raise funds — but a lot gets thrown out. Buying things new to donate might seem like a nice idea, however, a savvy ferret shelter director buys supplies wholesale and gets twice the goods for what individuals usually pay.
13. Don’t forget there are ways to donate money that won’t cost you a penny! Does your employer offer matching or volunteer grants? If your ferret shelter is registered with igive.com or goodsearch.com, you can choose them to receive a small commission from every search you do. Both also have affiliated shopping sites — just "clicking through” from their portal generates a commission from the merchant and adds nothing to your cost.
Adoptions And More
14. All ferret shelter directors love it when you adopt!
15. Someone to care for a special needs animal either permanently or temporarily is truly wonderful. Maybe you have a talent for working with biters? Or you work at home and can care for an animal that requires several daily soup feedings? The ferret shelter director often deals with so many ferrets that these little guys may not get as much care as they could use. Not only are you really helping the ferret, but you’re helping the ferret shelter director feel better, knowing the animal is getting individual care.
16. Ferret shelter operators are grateful when people accept the whole adoption process. No one asks for a vet reference or landlord approval because they’re trying to be mean; we just want to make sure the ferret will go to a permanent home that will provide appropriate care. And we usually can’t accommodate those who stop in or call wanting to adopt right now; most ferret shelters don’t maintain a storefront operation and will be suspicious of anyone expecting instant gratification.
17. Little things count. If you come to adopt with your existing ferret and it poops on the floor, cleaning it yourself is really thoughtful! I love getting updates from adoptors telling me how their new friend is doing. Shelter directors often send animals off into the unknown; hearing they are well, loved and happy makes our day!
Volunteers —When They’re Good, They’re Great
18. Volunteering can be done in many ways, either in administrative duties or direct animal care. Some common tasks include writing grants, doing mailings, posting available animals online, web design, accounting, animal transport, intake/adoption assistance, grooming, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. It doesn’t have to be weekly; many directors would love someone to periodically organize a major cleanup. Being willing to do a monthly session at Petco or Petsmart is a great assist. FACT has one special volunteer family that runs an annual benefit tag sale — they do everything from finding goods to advertising, storing, pricing, and dumping leftovers.
19. Be considerate and respect boundaries, because nearly all shelters are run out of the director’s home. When a volunteer visits, it means the director is working; they may prefer to keep certain days/hours free.
20. Do tasks the way the ferret shelter director wants; he or she is there 24/7 and doesn’t need supplies moved where they can’t be found.
21. Simple things help, too. Tamara von Ouhl of New Jersey, along with Debi, Millie and me, love help socializing ferrets. Shelter ferrets need that interaction as much as they need food and clean litter. Millie would love someone to help fold the newspapers she uses in litter boxes — it makes litter changing faster. I often ask people to grind the dry food used for "duck soup.” A break from those tedious, constant chores is really welcomed!
22. It’s important to commit to your volunteerism and follow through. A volunteer offer isn’t worth much if you never do the job. A ferret shelter operator invests time and effort into volunteer training; it’s frustrating to have time wasted by someone who is unreliable.
23. The point of helping is to do work that either frees the ferret shelter operator to do other things or helps him/her do more, so please don’t expect them to entertain you or your children. A responsible adult who will work with them should accompany minors. Large groups should have several adults supervising. It’s great when volunteers "pair up;” they keep each other company and accomplish more.
24. Ferret shelter operators need to get away sometimes, for business, vacation or a short break to save their sanity. An experienced volunteer(s) willing to stop in and "cover” a care shift is performing a truly valuable service.
When you devote a good part of your time caring for other people’s abandoned animals, you are a special type of person. (Yes, and a little crazy, too!) The ferret shelter director is the heart and muscle behind the shelter. Occasionally doing a Wonderful Thing for that person helps them get through the hard work and heartbreak.
A small gift or treat is so thoughtful. The eyes of a chocoholic will light up for something sweet. A certificate for dinner out — with a free cage-cleaning session included while they dine — won’t be turned away! But you don’t have to spend a penny — take the time to thank the person who runs the ferret shelter for all their efforts, and you’ll be doing something truly wonderful.