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How Can I Help?

by Steve Bodofsky

Running a ferret rescue, we meet a lot of new people, day in and day out. They come by looking for help with a sick ferret, or to learn about adoption or care. As they look around, it doesn’t take long before they realize the enormity of the situation. And, in most cases, they’re quick to ask, “How can I help?”

The immediate answer is usually something glib, along the lines of “cash, preferably in large denominations.” After we’ve all had a good laugh, these folks usually do make some sort of donation. And all donations, no matter how large or small, are greatly appreciated.

But money is only one way to help a rescue or shelter; and in some cases, it may not be the best way you can help out. Here are some others you might want to think about:

Finding Adopters…

One of the best ways to help a shelter is to reduce its costs. And the most effective way of reducing a shelter’s costs is to adopt a ferret yourself. Or, if that isn’t possible, you could help place adoptable ferrets with new owners.

Can’t take in any more ferrets? How about sponsoring a sick or elderly ferret in the rescue? Your out-of-pocket cost would work out to just a few cents a day, but your commitment would make a real difference to the rescue… and the ferret you sponsor.

As a ferret owner yourself, you’re the perfect person to introduce ferrets to friends, family and acquaintances. If someone shows an interest, direct them toward the shelter. Don’t let them go to a pet store: There are too many ferrets in shelters, just waiting for someone to offer them a new home.

And even if the person you send doesn’t adopt, at least they’ll have the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of ferret care. Nothing prevents a ferret from finding its way into the shelters like good education ahead of time. And the fewer ferrets in the system, the more money available for the ones that are there.

Buying Products…

Most shelters use product sales to help support their operations. Some sell harnesses, others sell hammocks or snuggle sacks. We sell Ferret Fun Tubes, nutritional supplements, and our own line of New Rainbow Bridge fine art prints and sympathy cards. The hope is that we’ll sell enough of these products to provide for our fuzzy friends, without cutting too deeply into our mortgage payment.

When you’re talking to a shelter operator, find out what they use to generate funds. In most cases, you’ll find they offer something that you’re either looking for, or you need on a regular basis.

Of course, you can probably find whatever you’re looking for at the local chain store; sometimes for less than the shelter is asking. But by buying from the shelter, you’re helping support ferrets directly. So what if you pay a few extra bucks: Isn’t it worth it to know the money’s going to support those rescues?

Even if you try to support your local rescues and shelters first every time, sometimes you will have to buy from the pet chains. The trick is to make sure you’re buying from a chain that supports rescues and shelters. PetSmart spends thousands of dollars every year to help dog, cat… and yes, ferret shelters.

As a PetSmart-approved rescue/shelter, we’re invited to PetSmart’s Adopt-a-thons, where we can educate the public about ferrets and their care. And we’re encouraged to offer ferrets for adoption through the PetSmart program. That’s why we recommend buying from PetSmart, over other pet supply chains: It’s in our best interest to keep them in the adoption business.

Avoid the stores that sell ferrets: In most cases, they’re part of the problem, not the solution.

Helping Out…

Probably the best thing you can offer any shelter is yourself: If you can, offer to come in once a week (or twice a month… whatever you have time for) to help clean cages and fill water bottles. In our shelter, that simple job can take six hours for one person: A second person cuts that time in half.

Don’t forget the more demanding chores of ear cleaning and nail clipping. Shelters have to do that every week or two, just like you do; the only difference is, at the shelters, it can take several hours to get through. An extra set of hands can trim that job down to size.

Are you heading over to the vet’s? Why not call the shelter, and see if they need you to take someone with you? Going to the pet supply store? See if you can pick something up for the shelter while you’re there.

And don’t just consider shelter chores: Remember, every minute spent working in the shelter takes a minute away from the rest of the house. We still need to rake leaves, clean out gutters, seal the driveway, wash windows… all the same chores you perform around your own home.

Look around: You’ll see if there’s something that had to slide, in favor of the rescue. Are the shrubs overgrown? Offer to come by one day and trim them. Are the windows dirty? Offer to wash them. Just about any chore that you do for yourself can be a good way to help out at a shelter.

Is there too much needed for you to handle yourself? Get some friends together and organize a painting party, or a spring-cleaning weekend. It’s just amazing how much a few people can get done when they put their mind to it.

One thing most shelters have very little time for is cooking. We usually subsist on quick, easy-to-prepare meals or callout from the local steak or pizza place. Do you have a special dish that you’re known for? Offer to bring a meal by, or invite us to dinner at your place. Either would be a wonderful change of pace.

Stuff…

Another thing that can be more valuable to a shelter than cash is “stuff.” What kind of stuff? Here’s one: You know those big barrels that you get with some brands of hard pretzel? They’re great for storing ferret food or litter. They even make good ferret toys.

Other items that fit into the category of “stuff” are things like trash cans with locking lids, 5-gallon buckets, step stools, scales (I’ve been looking for those hanging scales like the ones in the grocery story for a year now; I still haven’t found one… yet), plastic tubs (for litter boxes), receiving blankets, towels, sheets and so on. If you’re not sure whether something you have would be useful, ask: We’re not shy… we’ll tell you.

We recently received a folding table, a filing cabinet and a bulletin board from one of our more generous friends. While none of the items were specifically for the ferrets, the money we saved by not having to buy them enables us to provide more for the rescues. So that simple donation was like a cash donation of $150 or more, and it didn’t cost her a thing; the best of all possible worlds.

Another item to consider is furniture. Many of us who run shelters often have to live with worn or damaged furniture. Look around you: Is the sofa threadbare? Are the chairs frayed around the edges? Maybe they can’t afford new ones, or maybe they’re just unwilling to spend money for something that’s likely to get damaged as soon as it gets into the house.

Do you have a chair or sofa you’re planning to replace? What kind of shape is it in? If it’s in good shape, you might want to offer it to the rescue. Of course, don’t be offended if they refuse: They may not have the same taste as you.

Professional Services…

Do you have any special skills you can offer to the rescue? They can probably use them. For example, most rescues don’t have their nonprofit status. That’s because the process is too involved to handle themselves, and the cost of an accountant or lawyer prevents them from filing the appropriate papers.

If you’re a lawyer or an accountant, maybe you could offer to help with the paperwork. We’re working with someone right now who’s helping us get our nonprofit status. That not only saves us the money to acquire the new status, but also makes us eligible for donations from mainstream sources.

Of course, that’s not the only service an accountant could perform for a shelter. We still have taxes to file, and business issues to deal with. As with other services, anything we have to pay someone for comes out of our shelter budget.

Are you a doctor? The medicines we use for our rescues are the same ones that kids use: We can use some of your samples to care for our fuzzy friends.

And professionals aren’t the only services that can be helpful to a rescue. We just spent over $200 to have our heaters repaired; $200 that could have been used to pay for an adrenal surgery.

Auto mechanics: We still have cars, and need the same maintenance and repair services as any other car owner. Oil changes, tune-ups, brake work, alignments… you can save a shelter hundreds of dollars over the course of a year, without investing anything more than a bit of your free time.

Plumbing, carpentry, carpet cleaning, and so on… all services that can be useful to a rescue, enabling them to devote more money to care for the rescues.

As you can see, there are lots of ways to help a shelter, no matter what your personal capabilities, time constraints or financial situation. Of course, if all else fails, there’s always cash… preferably in large denominations.

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