By Sinead Chapdelaine
Did you know that the exotic animals department of the Montreal SPCA has rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, gerbils, mice, ferrets, hedgehogs, chinchillas, parrots and various birds you can foster or adopt?
The exotic animals department is run by volunteers. Here is an interview with Émilie Évrard, one of the volunteers I got to know while adopting my bunnies.
Sinead: Do you like volunteering at the SPCA?
Émilie: Yeah, I really like it. I like to socialize the animals, take care of them (clip their nails, brush them, feed them), and take pictures of them—a bit like you.
S: Is it hard?
E: Sometimes it’s hard when you see animals that come in that are covered with pee, [or] are obese—like they didn’t have great conditions in their previous homes. So it’s hard then, but when you see them evolve and get better and healthier, it’s easier.
S: How long have you volunteered at the SPCA? How long will you stay?
E: It’s been about 4 years since I began volunteering at the SPCA. I am still studying, so it depends on when I am done with my studies if I stay here or if I go somewhere else. I will always volunteer because—how do I say?—you feel better when you know that you’ve helped another person or another animal. I think I will always continue to volunteer with animals because I love working with them.
S: Do you just work with bunnies?
E: No, I work with bunnies, birds, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice, hamsters, degus, chinchillas, hedgehogs. Sometimes we work with cats and dogs, but usually we stay with the exotic animals because we know them and they need our help.
S: Do the animals get to know you?
E: Yeah, for sure. Sometimes, when you handle the same animals, you always have a favorite that you mostly like, and they get to know you; they recognize your voice and come to you to be petted and sometimes when I bring them out to see potential families, some just stay with me, jump on my shoulders, because they know me and they’re afraid of the new family, but then they get used to the new family.
S: Why do so many animals get dropped off [at the SPCA]?
E: For the exotic animals, it’s mostly that people buy them at a pet store and have the wrong information on how to take care of them. Also, they don’t have good expectations, so they think that a rabbit would be like a fluff toy; that they will sleep with them and they don’t need to take care of them. Once they know that they need fresh veggies every day, they need a litter change every day, and that if you don’t take care of them, they might get sick or they will smell really bad—so once they know that, they just abandon them because they don’t want to work to change their habits. Also, some people think that rabbits live for a year or two, but they live up to ten years, so that’s when they abandon them. Even with hamsters it can happen. Hamsters can live up to 2 1/2 years, and we often have hamsters that are one year old dropped off.
S: Is there a time when a lot of animals get dropped off?
E: I would say the worst time is in August. I don’t know why, maybe because it’s back-to-school and people just don’t have time for the animals anymore. And May and June—Easter period—and before summer vacation, people drop [animals] off because they don’t want to spend money on paying someone to keep them for the summer.
S: How many animals are there [at the SPCA]?
E: At the moment, we have about 70 bunnies. Most of them are in foster homes. They are not here because we do not have the space for them. At one point, about 3 years ago, we had 150 rabbits. At the beginning of 2015, we went down to 50 rabbits, so that’s really good. We are seeing that more people ask for help in socializing their rabbits instead of just abandoning them, and more people adopt more than one rabbit to form groups. Also, more people are deciding to sterilize their rabbits. For the other animals, like guinea pigs and other rodents, we have about 20-30 of them, except at the moment we have 30 gerbils. That’s a lot. Overall, we have about 150 exotic animals.
S: What can we do to help?
E: We are always looking for volunteers, so if someone wants to come here to help clean cages and socialize animals, we always like that. Also, you can adopt or foster: if you can commit long-term, you can adopt; if you are not able to commit for all the life of the animal, then you can foster. That would really help us, and help to socialize the animals so they don’t stay here for a long time. You can also donate accessories, food and money for vet [care]. Most importantly, sterilize your pets so their babies do not end up at the SPCA. People can also help us by taking good care of their own animals first.
So there [are] many ways to help. And just sharing the fact that we have animals at the SPCA [helps], because many people know where to buy them at pet stores and at breeders, and they know where to abandon them at the SPCA, but rarer are the people who know that exotic animals can be adopted from the SPCA. So you can [ask] your friends: “Do you want a bunny? You can get them at the SPCA.” So just that helps a lot for people to get to know us and for the animals to find families sooner.
S: Thank you.
E: You’re Welcome.