This week’s blog is by Frank Yaeger. I met Frank through Alfalfa’s Adventures and was immediately impressed by the work he does. He is a retired IBM computer engineer that volunteers to help all types of pocket pets. Frank works with these smaller pets and helps socialize them for adoption. His work is important for these small pets with huge hearts. I asked him to write a blog in order to stress the need for volunteers and help in the small pet community. Remember: Rescue and adopt but never ever buy or breed. Thanks. – Kerry Anne
How I Became a Pocket Pet Whisperer
By: Frank Yaeger
When I retired after 43 years with IBM, I worried that I’d become a couch potato. So I started looking around for something new to keep me occupied. I’d always loved animals, so I looked in that direction and was lucky to find a wonderful way to spend my time; helping rescued pocket pets get adopted and educating adults and children about them.
Let’s go back to when I first discovered pocket pets. About 13 years ago, when our second beloved dog passed away, my wife realized she’s allergic to dogs and cats. We both love animals and the thought of not having pets was too sad to contemplate. A friend named MaryAlice had a rat named Phil. She suggested we consider a rat as a pet. My wife and I are from New York, so we never really thought of rats as pets, but we were open to it. MaryAlice brought her rat named Phil over to our house for a “test drive”. Of course, as soon as we met Phil, we fell in love with rats. We did our research and then got two rats we named Buffy and Willow. We’ve had pet rats ever since; 27 so far, usually four at a time. They’re wonderful pets and I could write another whole blog about them.
But let’s move ahead to my post retirement mission to not become a couch potato. I started looking for volunteer jobs involving animals. I considered several, but was blown away by the detailed information I found on the website of the Humane Society of Silicon Valley (www.hssv.org). Their mission, training program for volunteers, volunteer assignments, etc. was just what I was looking for. HSSV is a fantastic rescue group with 100 staff and almost 1000 volunteers. The Animal Adoption Center (ACC) is our main facility in Milpitas, CA and it’s incredible. HSSV rescues dogs, cats, rabbits, rats, guinea pigs and hamsters, and finds good homes for them. I signed up as a Pocket Pet volunteer and before I knew it got really involved.
Pocket pets need new homes for a variety of reasons: people have to move; landlords don’t allow pets; people become allergic; kids grow up and lose interest; etc. Responsible owners surrender their pets to HSSV or another rescue group such as Rattie Ratz Rescue or Cavy House. Unfortunately, there are irresponsible owners who abandon their pets on streets, in parking lots and even on highways. All of the pocket pets taken in at the ACC get examined by a vet and treated if necessary. They are also evaluated by one of our behaviorists. When ready, they are sent to one of our Neighborhood Adoption Centers (NACs) and put up for adoption.
My main and favorite volunteer assignment is working with the pocket pets at our NAC inside PETCO in Saratoga,CA (well, technically it’s in San Jose). Guinea pigs, rats and hamsters are often quite scared and nervous when they come to us. A shelter is a very stressful environment for animals. My job is to give our pocket pets TLC so they learn to be comfortable with people, show the pocket pets to potential adopters and educate people on pocket pet care. Of course, we have wonderful staff members at the NAC (led by Tracy) who do the actual adoptions, take great care of the animals and supervise the volunteers. We have a great team at the Saratoga NAC and we are very successful at finding good homes for our animals.
Working with rats was easy, since I had lots of experience with my own. But I’ve never had guinea pigs (my wife is allergic to the hay they need) or hamsters, so I had to learn about them on the job with help from the staff and other volunteers. I absolutely fell in love with the guinea pigs; they are the most tame and cuddly animals ever (with the occasional exception like Alfalfa). It turned out I have a real knack for socializing all of the pocket pets, so I became known as the Pocket Pet Whisperer. I love working with the pocket pets and introducing them to excited families. I’ve even had the opportunity to occasionally work with other pocket pets like mice and chinchillas.
My biggest challenge has been socializing Cuy Guinea Pigs. These very large GPs are raised for food in South America, but have been showing up as pets in shelters. They are very scared of people and a real challenge to socialize. It usually takes us several weeks to gain their trust and get them to the point where they are adoptable. But we’ve been really successful at finding them good homes and we’ve gotten good feedback from the families who adopted them.
In my two years as an HSSV volunteer, I’ve also taken on some additional assignments: Rabbit volunteer, Cat volunteer and Education Ambassador. As Education Ambassadors, my wife and I give tours of the ACC as part of HSSV’s Kind Kids Field Trip program, and we teach Pocket Pet classes at the ACC. The best part of the Pocket Pet class is watching the kids’ reactions when they meet our four pet rats. For most of the kids, to know them is to love them (if only adults were more accepting).
Instead of becoming a couch potato in retirement, I became an active member of a wonderful group that rescues thousands of animals a year. I’m proud to be part of the HSSV and enjoy volunteering immensely.
P. S. – I plan to be back next week writing. I am going to talk about all the preparations for the new guinea pigs I’m making. There has been a lot of buying, building, and injuries in the process. Have I told you that I hate building guinea pig cages? Well, I do…officially. Thanks for your support. – Kerry Anne