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Focus on Community Service & Philanthropy

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Local Animal Rescues Serve the Furry, the Feathered and Sometimes the Scaly

No matter which species they gravitate to, animal rescuers have one universal motivation: It’s a labor of love. Nobody is getting rich rescuing stray, feral, mistreated or abandoned animals. The long hours, never-ending expenses and ongoing need to provide consistent care soon would become overwhelming without fierce motivation on the part of the rescuer to be “a ray of hope for helpless animals,” as the new tagline for Sunshine’s Friends Cat (soon to be Cat and Dog) Rescue will read.

Sunshine’s Friends, located off of Route 1, just over the border in Anne Arundel County, is run by Bev and Keith Burnham, two of the directors of Sunshine’s Friends, along with Darvin Rivera, a young man who’s been helping with the cats for approximately 10 years and who lives on-site at the rescue. A team of staff and volunteers provides needed assistance, both at the Jessup adoption center and at adoption events held regularly at a local PetSmart.

The Burnhams operate a cage-free, indoor-outdoor cat rescue and adoption center, including a 20-foot by 20-foot enclosed “catio,” complete with beams to walk along and structures to climb, and a kitty condo, which provides shelter from the elements and holds individual cat beds, each with a heating pad underneath. In the indoor area, roomy, multi-level crates house cats that are being rehabilitated or have special medical or feeding needs. Cats can range at will between the two areas.

Beyond that, roughly an acre of land enclosed with a Purr…fect Fence, a patented product specifically designed to keep the mighty climbers in the yard, houses those cats that are more feral or accustomed to living outdoors. With insulated, heated shelters, culverts to hide in, artfully-piled tree trunks to climb and other distractions, these cats can live out their days, safe and food-secure. Occasionally, some of them are adopted out as barn cats.
As are many rescues, Sunshine’s Friends is a foster-based program and is always looking for loving homes to accommodate its rescues until they are adopted.

Area Rescues

This region boasts animal rescues that, well, rescue anything from the smallest of mammals, such as mice, hamsters and rabbits, as do the Friends of Rabbits, in Columbia, and the SPCA of Anne Arundel County, in Annapolis; to animals that are a bit larger, such as horse (and the occasional mule) rescues Days End Farm Horse Rescue, in Woodbine, and Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, in Mount Airy.
And then there’s Frisky’s Wildlife & Primate Sanctuary, in Woodstock, which is the forever home for 15 monkeys (it’s had up to 31 in the past) and a wide variety of assorted wildlife. Sanctuary founder Colleen Layton, who’s fostered animals since 1970 — “I had a litter of bunnies brought to me, and the rest is history,” she said — began caring for primates in 1989, traveling to Cincinnati to rescue a Rhesus Macaque infant whose mother had rejected it. Gizmo is still at the sanctuary.

On occasion, law enforcement will seize an exotic animal that’s illegally being kept as a pet, such as a baby alligator, and will turn it over to Frisky’s for temporary care. Layton has a broad network of facilities that will take wildlife that the sanctuary is not equipped to care for long-term.

Frisky’s also accepts and rehabilitates injured wild animals, with the intent of releasing them back into the wild once they heal. This winter, it played host to a great horned owl, three barred owls, five hawks, a falcon, three vultures and a Canada goose, all of which soon will be released.

Now that the spring birthing season is here, it also is receiving baby foxes, squirrels and other animals whose mothers either were killed or abandoned their young. Fawns also are brought to them, but Julia Dagnello, a volunteer with Frisky’s, reminds people that deer frequently leave their fawns alone and only return to feed them every four to six hours, so unless the fawn is obviously injured or has been crying for a long time without the mother returning, the best thing to do is to leave it alone.

“If you should need to pick up a fawn, make sure to wear gloves,” Layton said, “to guard against internal and external parasites, among other things. And pad the bottom of the container you put them in. Their little bones are so fragile, like glass.”

‘I Think I’ll Start a Rescue’

Most rescues don’t start out to become an official “thing.” It generally starts with a single animal, or small group of animals, that are in need of help, and a compassionate person who realizes the situation and provides that assistance.

Sunshine, the cat that started the ball rolling with the Burnhams, was part of a feral cat colony that was feeding out of dumpsters at a nearby industrial facility. When the company moved out in 2004, the cats lost their food supply and began looking further afield. Bev Burnham began feeding Sunshine — so named for his early-morning appearances in her yard — and he soon brought his friends, and his girlfriend, there was a litter of kittens, and the Burnhams realized they had a population that was depending on them for food and care.
Belinda Brotherson and her husband, Spencer, on the other hand, founders of the fledgling Second Nature Parrot Rescue (which is still achieving its 501[c][3] status, which would make contributions to the rescue tax-deductible), had been bird foster parents for another rescue, and thought they could expand on, and improve, the process.
“The rescue we were involved with didn’t take the smaller birds, and they need love and care, too,” said Belinda Brotherson. “We saw a greater need, so we opened up our own doors to a wider range of birds to receive help.”

The birds, which are sheltered in their home, each have an enclosure, but free flight within the house is allowed as much as, and to as many birds as, is practicable. (Some of the birds, like the tiny lovebird Dax, must be closely supervised during free flight time, as she will bully or try to pick fights with some of the other birds.)

Although only established as a rescue since June of last year, Second Nature already has adopted out 17 birds to new homes.

Forever Home

The goal with most of these animals is to find them a forever home — and the right kind of owner. The rescues are forthright about the behavioral, health and care issues an animal has, and has experienced; its temperament; and the type of new home environment the animal would be most comfortable in.

Gentle Giants is candid about the condition of the horses it deems adoptable. In its website listing, it indicates that a horse named Storm, for instance, is suitable for “walk/trot for an intermediate rider,” and his “limitations/maintenance” include “hock arthritis, Cushings disease and past founder. Requires front shoes.” A horse named Pony Boy “has a very distrusting personality, but he warms up to those who wish to gain his affections through consistency. He has a lot of potential but needs to find ‘his person’ who is willing to put time and patience into the relationship.”
Almost universally, the rescues have an adoption agreement clause stipulating that, should the new owner wish to or need to surrender the animal for any reason, s/he must return the animal to the shelter it was adopted from.

Many of the small animal rescues partner with Adopt-a-Pet and Petfinder to showcase their adoptable animals online to a wider audience. Several also partner with local pet stores, such as PetSmart and Petco, to hold rescue events, where potential adopters can get up-close and personal with the animals.

The Message

When asked what message they would like to impart to the public, the rescues’ response was pretty unanimous.

Don’t adopt, or buy, an animal you are not sure you will be able to take care of. Find out what, exactly, caring for that animal will entail, and how long the animal can be expected to live. Make sure your living arrangements will be able to accommodate the pet and that there will be no unforeseen issues with anyone in your household, such as allergies to the animal. If possible, don’t shop; adopt.
And if you do bring an animal home, respect and love the animal. Provide the care it needs, for as long as it needs it.

The cat and dog rescues have a further message: Spay or neuter the animal. Don’t assume that, because the animal spends its time indoors, there’s no need to spay or neuter. Sexually intact animals will find a way to get together. Don’t bring additional animals into the world where so many now are homeless.

They have a request, as well. If you care about animals, support your local rescue. Even small donations can go a long way toward helping to care for more animals. If you can, give of your time, as well, by volunteering at the rescue or at the adoption events.

Bev Burnham summed it up succinctly. “If we had more volunteers, we could save more lives.”