|Critter Camp is a
Critter Camp is a
|Where Have You Been All My Life?
It has taken years for the local package delivery folks to become accustomed to my answering the door holding, oh
say, a two foot bearded dragon or a plump inquisitive hairless rat. They don’t bat an eye anymore as they carry
heavy parcels into our kitchen careful not to trip over a hedgehog zooming by in his plastic exercise ball. Yes, our
house is a bit unusual. For example, our python eats pre-killed frozen prey (this is safer than live for the snake, and,
well, I couldn’t bear to watch a creature’s demise for any reason!) that we keep in our freezer alongside the frozen
pizzas. Being a vegetarian, this is no different to me than keeping a pound of hamburger in there. A critter’s a critter
to me, and some critters have to eat others (people don’t, but that’s another soapbox.)We have found that the only
place for this delicacy to warm up to room temperature safely protected from our five felines’ curiosity is in the
bathroom medicine cabinet. Oh, it can be startling for those in the house who forgot it was feeding day, but it sure
cures nosy guests from snooping!
Besides not looking behind closed doors here, most visitors have learned to ask before hugging me. An unfamiliar
observer might conclude that asking, “Is there something in your pocket?” before an embrace is some private term
of endearment or secret code. But it’s nothing so cryptic. Folks have just learned that at any time I am likely to be
training a sugar glider joey to sleep in my shirt pocket. This lesson has come the hard way for some, having given
me an unannounced tight squeeze only to hear the startling sound of a glider “crabbing.” This nearly indescribable
noise is similar to what you would hear if you shoved a wooden spoon into a running garbage disposal. An amazing
emanation from such an adorable tiny creature! Awakened thusly from his contented slumber the joey pokes his little
head out and looks up at me with a confused look in his enormous entrancing eyes. I apologize profusely (to the
glider, and scold the human!) and appease him with a treat. Generally a waxworm or cricket does the trick. He rolls
over and dives headfirst back into the cozy darkness with just a tuft of his long tail left to be seen.
Having unexpectedly run out of “feeder bugs” one day I searched for a comparable snack. Scavenging through the
cupboards I realized that I hadn’t tried giving the little fellow peanuts yet. His daddy likes peanuts quite a bit, but his
momma doesn’t, so I wasn’t sure how he would react. I retrieved him from the large enclose he shares with his
parents and placed him in my pocket as usual. He was having trouble getting settled so I thought I’d try the new treat
as a bedtime snack. I slowly held the peanut out to him, he looked at it, he looked at me, then looked back at the
morsel. He seemed confused. What was this thing that didn’t move and smelled different? Cautiously he reached out
with that precious teensy hand of his and took the tidbit. He nibbled at the nut and looked back up at me. The
expression on his sweet face was of bliss and wonderment! What was this divine confection I had offered him? Food
of the gods surely! Then he seemed to show a hint of contempt. Why had I held out on him? Where had I been
hiding these goodies? Having devoted quite enough attention to me, he dove back into gnawing on the delicious
legume, savoring every molecule. Then it was off to dreamland where he likely had visions of Mr. Peanut dancing in
I am admittedly a hopeless soft touch, particularly with this joey, so now we are sure to keep a full stock of raw
peanuts to be doled out often rewarding his every move. Fortunately, my maternal instinct keeps me from disrupting
his nutrition with too many treats, but it takes every ounce of willpower I have to deny him when those big beautiful
eyes look up into mine pleading for just one more……
Fall of a Tyrant
We have critters, a lot of critters, too many critters, according to some folks. My oldest son, living on his own now,
has suggested, jokingly, that we could “thin the herd” by leaving all of the cages open for a day and see who is left.
Survival of the fittest, or fastest, as it were. That’s pretty good, I think, coming from a young man whose only sibling
for his first five years was our rescued raccoon.
Knowing he was only kidding (we don’t let him pet-sit though, just in case) my younger daughter and I discussed the
outcome of such a “circle of life” situation. We both immediately agreed upon who would be napping contentedly,
softly panting, bloated belly side up in the middle of the floor after the fur & feathers ceased to fly. It would not be the
predatory felines that lurk about, bringing us “gifts” from the fields behind our home, not even the tigress wannabe
who actually dares to wrestle with the alpha critter. It would not be the hulking black shaggy dog who has just
enough border collie in him to simply want to herd all the animals. Oh no, he would be exhausted from trying to put
them all back where they belong, or from licking them. Years ago we taught him to “kiss the mouse” - whenever we
held out a small animal he would lick it with a mortified look on his face. The trick works every time, well, except when
we tried it with the lizard; he apparently thought the dog’s tongue was lunch. It would not even be the python, for he
is afraid of anything bigger than a mouse, even though he is supposed to be eating large rats by now.
Our top carnivore, the ruling beast that chases the enormous dog till he drops, out pounces the feistiest of our
felines, and would likely make mincemeat out of the snake is 2 ½ pounds of pure aristocratic ferret named
Anastasia. Yes, this sweet petite sprite who has never so much as nipped a single person, not even as a kit, is the
queen of our jungle. Immediately after running the dog ragged, looking like a miniature elongated lioness trying to
bring down a full grown water buffalo, she will nestle innocently in our arms, nuzzle our cheeks and give kisses upon
You can imagine our apprehension at introducing any new “family members” to this matriarchal mustilade. When the
cats met her highness, they held their own briefly before escaping her relentless pursuit by jumping up onto the bed.
This prompted her to figure out a way to get up on the bed, using her indoor digging box as a step-stool. We moved
the box away from the bed, so the cats can continue to play with the ferrets at least until they choose to seek refuge
Our concern was heightened with the latest newbie – a tiny toy poodle mix puppy. Chi Chi came home as a teensy
ball of cotton with a tongue; a fragile little puff of pure love. To say the least, we were hesitant to let her in the “ferret
room” during free range time. However, once she had learned to sufficiently annoy the canine behemoth, and felt
the whap of a cat’s paw a time or two we felt she was ready to romp with the ferts. My daughter and I crouched close
to her on the floor as the weasels stretched, yawned and emerged from their cage. With her tail wagging so hard it
pulled her little body from side to side Chi Chi bounded over to meet these intriguing creatures. Within moments of
the introductory sniffing the pup seemed to have morphed into a ferret herself as the three of them rolled, hopped
and pounced through the play tubes, under the bed and all about the room. Initially we were relieved that Chi Chi
could hold her own among these beasties. But soon Anastasia was tiring, exerting noticable effort keeping up with
Chi Chi. We watched as she even began to hide from the puppy’s endless attention. Chi Chi was not to be denied,
now that she found a formidable playmate. She tracked the queen of our castle, finding her resting in a carpet tube.
Being so small Chi Chi was able to stick her head inside the tube and pull Anastasia out, proceeding to drag her
about the room by her tail! Oh the indignity! The power shift was most obviously complete, Chi Chi had become the
hound to Anastasia’s fox. This adorable little fluff of milkweed now reigns supreme over the fallen empress, and
therefore over our entire hissing, howling, happy, home. But, Anastasia still gives the sweetest kisses.
Anastasia passed to the Rainbow Bridge 7-08
She is greatly missed
Exotic Pet Sanctuary
For a Pet?
|Life at Critter Camp
|Read about life here at Critter Camp in the following short essays, with
more to be added soon!
"The Ferrets Started It…."
"Where Have You Been All My Life"
"Fall of a Tyrant" (About Anastasia, who passed to the Rainbow Bridge 7-08)
The Ferrets Started It….
I guess you could say that it’s all the ferrets’ fault. If you are familiar with the fuzzy beasts known as
carpet sharks then you are already agreeing without needing to know any more of the story. These
captivating creatures came into our lives some years ago, beginning our family’s adventures with
Being an animal lover, I have always made sure that our household included the customary pets -
dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, mice, turtles, frogs, and fish. However, I was no stranger to
unconventional pets. When I was about five I wanted a pet so much that I kept earthworms in my
bedroom in a plastic container; of course they all were named. Many years later, when I was seven
months pregnant, I adopted a rescued raccoon kit and raised her alongside my first child. So when
the youngest of my four kids developed a near obsession with creatures of all kinds I was grateful
for this “excuse” to share our lives with some more unusual pets.
My son spent countless hours searching far and wide for pictures, facts, care, and purchase
information regarding nearly every animal imaginable. We had also taken to frequent a small
nearby pet store. We became ‘regulars’ much in the same way some retirees become regulars at
the local coffee shop. During our visits we would talk with the shop owners about pets, families,
world events, everything. With vast research under our belts and the pet store folks’
encouragement we chose a ferret that had been returned to the store by someone who did not
realize the care he would require, for our induction into the world of exotic pets. A rescue, of course.
Bringing home the new additions to our family was quite an event. Yes, additions, with an s. We
had learned that ferrets are highly social, so we had to bring home his cousin as well. You see, they
called the shots from the beginning. Anastasia and Ferri, our fuzzies, have been more than we
could have hoped for; more fun, more adorable, more mischievous, more work, and more rewarding.
Once these furry “tube socks filled with sand” became firmly entrenched in our hearts we welcomed
into our home a hedgehog, rats, bunnies, guinea pigs, snakes, bearded dragons, a tarantula even,
and a family of sugar gliders. Why is it that when you have a lot of pets, people seem to think you
won’t mind a few more? I mean, I never looked at the family with 8 kids down the street from us
when I was growing up and thought gee maybe I could give them my little brother and they’d never
notice. Well, maybe I did think that just once. At any rate, we were getting critters from folks that
‘just couldn’t take care of them’ anymore. And with over thirty pets we could? Well, of course we
could. Somehow, when you tend to that many pets already, one more cage to clean, bowl to fill, and
furball snoozing in your lap truly is no problem. Now that I think about it, perhaps I could have
pawned off my little brother after all.
Along with the growing menagerie, out of the woodwork came friends, friends of friends, and total
strangers showing up at our doorstep saying things like “Can we pet your porcupine?” We tell them,
actually, it’s a hedgehog and of course you can. Then the questions would come spewing out –
what does it eat, where does it sleep, why is it doing that? Over time we developed an introduction
for each animal that answered the usual questions and included a few unusual fun facts.
Then one day, as I was purchasing the monthly mountain of pet supplies and explaining to the
cashier that we care for dozens of critters consisting mostly of rescues, and educate and entertain
folks with our critters she said, “Gee you ought to make those animals pay their own way.” I guess I
had been too busy dodging dozens of simultaneously rolling plastic exercise balls to think of that
myself. We were at critical mass as it were and had begun to question if we could even accept any
more homeless critters unless we were going to make it a full-time venture. Hence, “Critter Camp”
was hatched. We obtained the appropriate licensing, not-for-profit status, etc. and began exhibiting
the animals at parties, reunions, youth groups, nursing homes, and so on in exchange for a small
donation. These earnings help with the ongoing care of all of the beasties. The more shows we do,
the more animals we can help (we have over 100 living here right now!) – both by providing homes
for rescues and by educating people to the responsibilities of exotic pet ownership, while hopefully
preventing some mistreatment and impulse buying. Of course the shows don’t cover all of their
costs and we are always thrilled with donations of supplies or any amount of the green stuff!
Best of all, Anastasia and Ferri, our precious original ferrets, received unlimited attention,
enrichment and exercise, since they, after all, were the stars of the show! They have since retired
from show biz and spend all of theri time snoozing and schmoosing with the 12 other ferrets