An exotic pet is basically any pet that isn’t a dog or cat. People often get them without realizing the amount of care they need. Rescue groups for these type of pets are few and far between. Critter Camp fills a desperately needed place as the only sanctuary in the US for exotic pets. Beth from Critter Camp was kind enough to be interviewed and share about the work they do!
1. How did Critter Camp get started?
Flash, the first fennec fox resident at Critter Camp.
We did not set out to form a rescue. About 12 years ago we took in 2 ferrets as a homeschool project. Then people started bringing us animals they didn’t want. We got up to 30 small pets and decided we couldn’t take in anymore but it turned out there were so many that would die without us saying yes so as a family we decided to make the committment to become a 501c3 non-profit organization and be licensed as a rescue with both the state and the USDA. I am a single mom on a very tight budget. It took sacrifice from all of us- myself and my children to do this. We all work a lot with the animals. About 8- 10 hours a day 7 days a week. They don’t take holidays off eating and pooping and being sick. We never ever go on a vacation or even an overnight. The last time we went anywhere overnight was 6 years ago. I do some caregiving and online sales to help pay the bills for our home. We do not take any salary or pay from the rescue. Our plan is to build a stand alone facility in the next few years that will have paid staff. Winning the $50,000 from Pepsi brought us that much closer. We bought 3 acres of land for the building site.
There are thousands of cat/dog, wildlife & farm animal rescues but very few exotic pet rescues. Critter Camp is the ONLY small exotic pet sanctuary of it’s kind in the entire US. We ended up focusing on the unusual pets that would otherwise be destroyed at shelters, considered unadoptable due to old age, aggression, fearfulness, and/or chronic illness.
At the beginning we considered doing some exotic pet boarding hence the name Critter Camp – a camp for your critter, but the organization evolved into this very specific niche not being filled anywhere.
We give these animals a last chance at a safe happy life, a kind of hospice or assisted care.
2. What type of animals do you take in and how do you help animals?
Hawk Girl, the guinea pig, who was lucky enough to escape the talons of a hawk and find a safe place at Critter Camp.
We only accept small exotic pets- all bred in captivity and kept as pets. Right now we care for over 300 animals of 30 different species. Everything from kinkajous to fennec foxes to hedgehogs to hamsters & rabbits. Any pet other than cats & dogs are considered exotic by USDA definition. The animals come here to northern IL from all over the country. We have taken in animals from New York, Texas, Nebraska, Florida etc.
Many time the animals were surrendered because the individual didnt realize what type of care they truly need, or how long they would live. Some people have lost their homes, some are kids’ pets that the parents refuse to care for when the child goes off to college. Some are even classroom pets. Lovely lesson for kids right- just dump the animals when you’re done. Some come from animal controls, some from veterinarians, most from shelters.
We do alot of education- presentations at libraries, schools, for scouts, etc. We try to impress people that they need to learn how long an animal lives before they get it, what it truly needs, and how to care for it before they buy or adopt it. We also encourage people to visit someone that has that pet before they get one so they can see first hand the needs – the smells the sounds, etc. We do tours here as well so people can get a first hand look at the animals. And of course we are available for questions anytime and have care pages on our website. http://crittercamp.weebly.com/critter-care.html
3. Do you adopt animals out?
In general no we do not. Critter Camp is a sanctuary- a last safe haven for these animals. However sometimes we will get a group of animals ( like from a hoarding situation) and some are adoptable, or we take in a pregnant animal and adopt the babies.
4. How many animals have you helped since you started?
Last count was a little over 800 animals that we have taken in, we have also arranged adoptions ( where an animal doesnt come in here but we find it a home by networking) for hundreds of small pets too.
5. What has been the highlight of doing this? Is there a special moment you can share?
There are alot of wonderful rescue stories- animals we saved -
there was Bravehog a hedgehog found in a dumpster. He was thrown out when his owner moved.
Oscar the bunny found in a trash can covered in ticks- again simply thrown away.
Munch & Fin the prairie dogs-their owner got tired of them and left on his porch to die. His neighbor would feed them when he was gone and finally just asked if she could have them. She brought them here where they are thriving.
Little Fluffy the baby guinea pig born blind and deaf with only 1 tooth. The people who had his mom didnt know she was pregnant when they got her and they had no idea how to care for this little one. She is doing well here now.
Tyson the ratty was thrown into a snake tank for food but ended up chewing half the face off the snake (please do not feed live animals to pet snakes!) the snake lived but needs assistance eating. Its owner’s girlfriend pleaded for him to find the rat a home. One of our volunteers took him in and brought him here.
Hawk Girl the guinea pig (pictured above) was seen running loose in a yard. People tried to catch her but she was too quick. Then they saw a hawk swoop down and pick her up & drop her. They got her then and took her to a shelter that sent her here.
We have had many animals paralyzed because they were dropped by careless owners too.
Our first fennec fox was Flash- he had been thru 5 owners due to extreme aggression- he was being cared for by another fennec owner but she couldnt keep him because he was so aggressive. She reached out to us to see if we could take him so he wouldnt have to be put down. We said we’d sure try & he came here. Within a few months he was so calm – he needed extra food to feel safe, he gained weight and he let everyone hold him- amazing for a fennec! He turned out to be so precious. He lived here as an ambassador to people for many years. He passed away of old age a few years ago- we miss him still, but he was such a big success story- such a turn around for an animal.
Bravehog the hedgehog was found in a dumpster.
6. The episode in Ohio last year where all those animals were released brought a lot of attention to people owning exotic pets. Did this have any effect on Critter Camp?
It didnt really affect us- except we had to explain a little more often that we do not keep large exotic animals, only small exotic pets.
7. In what ways can people help Critter Camp?
People can spread the word- visit our website, “like” us on facebook, subscribe to us on youtube, follow us on twitter, sign up for our free email newsletter- that kind of thing is free and helps especially when we need votes for contests like the Pepsi one we won last year. All those links are on our home page www.crittercamp.org .
People can donate several ways- see our donations page for paypal, global giving, our amazon wish list, etc and they can even donate by texting: GIVE 9918 to 80088 to donate. $10 to Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary Rescues 80 Pets!. Message and data rates may apply. Only works for US mobile phones.
See more of the animals Critter Camp has made a difference for in this video.
This post is part of the Blog the Change. Along with sharing Critter Camp’s story, I also wanted to let you that July 23rd is going to be a day when Bloggers Unite for Dog Rescue. Check back on that day for our post to help make a difference for dog s in need of homes. Even if you don’t blog, you can join in by spreading the word about this day. Visit Be the Change for Animals to learn how to do this as weel as other ways you can make a difference.
Visit the other blogs in the linky to see how people are making a difference for animals.
10 comments to Critter Camp- an Exotic Pet Sanctuary
What a beautiful interview! I really want a ferret or a hedgehog as a pet when I have a house one day, but thanks for the reminder not to make a hasty decision!
Visiting via SITS Sharefest
Very interesting article. Enjoyed reading about the shelter and the animals.
Visiting from SITS.
I can see how this would be an urgent need. So many people think of small animals easy starter pets and tire of them later.I was horrified when a local festival had someone selling sugar gliders out of a tent. Within months, we had many sugar gliders in the local SPCA. Fortunately, that vendor has never been asked back.I hope Critter Camp is able to start construction soon with their Pepsi grant. Sounds like they could use the room.
What a wonderful cause to highlight. I can’t imagine someone throwing a hedgehog in the trash! What is wrong with people…???
Critter Camp sounds like an amazing and much needed sanctuary. It’s so sad that people don’t take more responsibility for the care required for exotics – but it’s a relief to know that there is a place where these animals aren’t neglected any longer.
Thanks so much for spreading the word about the July 23rd dog rescue event, too. With folks like you promoting this special day, it’s sure to be a success!
Thanks so much for Blogging the Change! Kim CluneDirectorBetheChangeforAnimals.com
What an awesome cause! I admire you for the sacrifices you and your family have made to help these little critters! God Bless You!
Wow! I am absolutely blown away by all the work you and your children have done to rescue and care for an often neglected and much needed area of animal care. I cannot tell you how impressed I am. Wow. (When I say Wow twice that means my mouth is hanging open.)
I had no idea that you were the rescue who won the Pepsi Challenge. You certainly deserve it. I hope you will post pictures as your new sanctuary takes shape. I am excited for you!
Thanks so much for Blogging the Change and for spreading the word about July 23rd. I am so glad you joined Blog the Change so I could learn about you. Thank you for all you do.
Thank you for the opportunity to help get the word out about Critter Camp
And thank you everyone for your great comments! You can follow our progress on our Facebook page & our website & our free email newsletter – all links on our homepage, as well as our twitter & youtube too Thank you!
What an amazing organization – thank you so much for highlighting them today! I can easily see how vital this organization is and the need that it fills – so many people take on these smaller pets thinking that they’ll be less work and sadly, many then treat them as disposable. Thank goodness for Critter Camp.
Its great that you have taken up the cause for these small animals! They are so lucky that you stepped up and started Critter Camp.