by Lorie Lewis Ham
Wee Companions is a small animal rescue in San Diego, California. Their president Fenella Speece took some time to talk to KRL about the wonderful work they do.
KRL: How, when and why did Wee Companions get its start?
Fenella: I became aware in 1998 that here in San Diego there was no formal rescue group for rodents. I adopted a guinea pig (I had them as a child) from a dog rescue group and that introduced me to the rescue community. I talked with the volunteers and got some contact names and began to make ties to the local rescue folk.
In 2003, we became a Non profit, 501(c) 3, since we were growing and it was difficult to tap into funding without that status. I have always had a love for guineas pigs since I was given my first one at about 10 years old. Rescuing rats and other critters evolved as we went into local shelters and other “wee Ones” would stare at us and ask us to take them home too!
KRL: Your position with Wee Companions and why did you become involved?
Fenella: I am President of Wee Companions and have been since 2003. I am open to step down but have not had any offers to take my shoes yet! The need to rescue these small creatures was of course great. Folks do not even know they end up in shelters and think because they are easily replaced they can easily be disposed of too. They do not have many defenders for their small lives!
KRL: What types of animals do you rescue? And why did you choose those kinds?
Fenella: We rescue Guinea pigs, Rats, rabbits, hamsters, mice, chinchillas and have been known to bring in the odd beta fish, bird or even rooster when the need arises! Exotics need specialized care. Often the shelters are not knowledgeable about their care; especially their dietary needs and how to handle them, therefore we like to rescue them as soon as possible from the shelters, especially if they have special needs (are pregnant or sick)
KRL: How many would you say you rescue on average per year?
Fenella: It varies between 600 and 800.This year so far we are already up to over 660.
KRL: Is finding homes an issue?
Fenella: [To] find appropriate, forever homes can be a challenge. We screen as much as we can but hold an umbrella over all our animals. If they are adopted but their situation changes or the situation of their family changes and they can no longer take care of them we ask that they be returned to us and not passed on at all. We never want our rescues to be homeless again!
KRL: What do you do to find homes? Petfinder, website?
Fenella: We have guides to their care and links on our web site, hoping potential adopters will do their research and know exactly what they are getting into. Yes, a lot of our animals are on Petfinder. Often people are referred to us by vets, shelters and pet stores. We ask questions and review their answers. We have events in local pet stores and are open most weekends for adoptions at our foster homes.
KRL: Is it hard to find enough volunteers? How many do you generally have?
Fenella: We have about 30 volunteers and there is always a need for more. Folks come and go, although I believe we have a pretty good retention record. We look for people who are committed and are dependable and of course are allowed to have animals in their homes to foster.
KRL: Is there any type of animal that is harder to find homes for than others?
Fenella: Chinchillas are hard to place, they live a long time (up to 20 years), need air conditioning to keep their environment 68 to 70 degrees and need a big cage. Mice are hard to place but we have found neutering male mice increases their adoption potential. There are too many unwanted rabbits out there, these also are hard to place right now. Animals that are white with pink eyes are the hardest to place
KRL: Do you primarily adopt within CA?
Fenella: Yes, and primarily around San Diego, although we have adopted out of town under special circumstances. It can present problems though, since our contract states the animals must be returned to us and if folks live a long way away it can be logistically difficult to return them if there are issues.
KRL: When you adopt an animal out what is the process like?
Fenella: We talk with the potential adopter, we ask questions. There is no commitment and we do not hesitate to tell folks to go and do some more research if they need it or even direct them to another species if we feel it would work better. Getting the right fit is imperative and we try to work towards that from the beginning. If folks decide not to adopt that is fine, we would rather that than decide they have done the wrong thing the next day. We will hold an animal on reserve for a week or two if they need that time to think and we know the right home is out there for our animals, it is just a matter of finding the right one.
KRL: What are good sources for care info on the various types of animals you adopt out?
Fenella: Take a look at our web site on our resource page and under our links. There is a lot of good info out there on the web.
KRL: I believe you’ve been involved in some rather large rescues-can you tell me about those?
Fenella: The most recent one came from the Baldwin Park Shelter in Los Angeles. A woman gathered up most of her 150 guinea pigs in cardboard boxes and brought them to the shelter. Newborn pup, nursing moms, males, all together and mixed up. We worked closely with Orange County Cavy Haven to pull them the next day. It was quite a feat but they needed us, they were malnourished and dehydrated. Just to make sure pups were placed back with nursing moms was our fist main challenge and getting sick ones to the vet. We have had some losses but most are doing well now and new pups are coming along and surviving! A success!
KRL: How many animals can you accommodate at a time?
Fenella: We have about 250 animals in our rescue at any time, this includes sanctuaries and adoptables.
KRL: Do you ever feel burnt out?
Fenella: Yes, we get tired and frustrated and things of a personal nature get neglected but we are driven by a sense that we are needed and are doing the right thing for these small creatures that so many have little regard for. Even the smallest of life is precious and they have not asked to be bred, bought, neglected or thrown away, these are the ones that need us most.
KRL: What is the hardest? Best?
Fenella: Hardest is to take in neglected animals and not be able to turn them around. To watch them suffer due to human ignorance or neglect is hard. The best is to find the perfect home for the hard to place animal that you have had a long time.
KRL: I know we have a lot of readers who own rats, why do you feel rats are good pets?
Fenella: Rats are perfect companions. Their intelligence enables them to bond to the person they love, show love and without demanding too much in life bring a whole lot of pleasure. They are easily portable, require simple housing needs, don’t eat too much and do not require too much exercise (I am thinking of outside walking here!). They do not bark (perfect apartment inhabitants) and are always happy to see you. I believe they can be the perfect pet for young and especially older folk.
KRL: Is there anything Wee Companions does to help change people’s perceptions of rats as pets and make them aware of how awesome they are?
Fenella: We always have rats out for adoption and at our educational events. We try to show their charming side (often not difficult). We never are rude to folk or talk down to them if they are derogatory about our rats; we just smile and are friendly. We offer for folks to pet the rat but if they don’t want to that’s fine. Education is imperative and some people are just not in the right place to be open to rats, but someday down the road, they may be and they may just remember that rescue rat they saw once.
KRL: Anything else you would like to say about any of the other types of animals you rescue as far as being good pets, or what people should do to find out if they are the right pet for them?
Fenella: Just do your research and know life spans and housing needs. Check for allergies ahead of time before you bring the animals home. Really know what you are taking on and also the expense of it. A trip to an exotic vet will likely cost you about $50 before any diagnostics or medications. Just because a small animal is cheap to come by does not mean its care will be low cost if it were to get sick.
KRL: Why would you recommend rescuing an animal over a breeder or pet store?
Fenella: A responsible rescue will know the personality and health of their animals. This should always be disclosed and as I said before finding the right match is imperative. When dealing with folks, especially families with children time needs to be spent meeting the animals and finding where the chemistry lies. Rescues will likely be more willing to spend the time to find the right match. Rescues will take animals back if it does not work out, they really care about that animal for its lifetime not just the amount of time it takes to make a purchase.
KRL: What are Wee Companions future goals?
Fenella: To keep going during this tough economy. Our dream would be to have our won free standing shelter and adoption center.
KRL: Has the economy had any effect on what you do?
Fenella: Of course. We are unable to take in all the animals we receive phone calls on, it beats you down to keep having to say no, but we have limits too and our attention must go to the animals already within our rescue.
KRL: Any special challenges you face in working with any of the small critters as opposed to dogs and cats?
Fenella: Sometimes people have a concept of belittling their worth. A of folks do not even know these types of animals end up in shelters or are abandoned in parks, or left in apartments.
KRL: What are Wee Companions current needs and how can people help?
Fenella: We can always use monetary donations, that is a given. We buy our supplies wholesale so get discounts so if we buy the supplies we will give our animals better value for the money if we purchase the supplies. We appreciate being kept in people’s thoughts and prayers as we work hard to keep the wee ones safe.
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
Fenella: Thank you for showing an interest in our rescue and for folks taking the time to read this. Love and enjoy your animals!
Learn more about Wee Companions on their website.