So today was the Highland High School Career Exploration Day. It actually turned out better than I expected. It was even, should I say, a sort of clarifying experience for me. People asked about things that I suppose I didn't really think about before.
The rescue was the first table on the right, when you got in the door of the building, so there was very little walking to do. This was the first event I'd been to where I didn't have someone with me, so that in itself was a new experience. Because of that, I opted to not bring with me our usual chinchilla cage, but rather, brought a smaller travel-sized cage that some people had donated awhile back. I remember getting the tray powdercoated, thinking maybe eventually I would find a use for this. Well, for the one-day events, or the smaller gatherings, this cage will work just fine.
So, getting there, I took 45th to Kennedy and drove north. My dad said it was around 40th, 41st, and I did see the high school, set back from the road... right after I drove past it. Ok, well I was early, no big deal. So, I turned around, drove in, and eventually found the main entrance. I parked and went to walk in, and they said we could pull the vehicle up to the doors (normally busses only area) so I did. They had some students help to bring things in. I didn't have much, but the two cages, two carriers, and two bags with the other various stuff that I'd need. So the students helped bring all that in, and I set up the table. Pictures:
So, it was better than I thought it'd be. The students were pretty friendly. Shiloh decided to be a crabass, for the first maybe 30 minutes, during which he bit several people. So of course, I'm thinking the school's going to kill me AND they're probably regretting allowing me to bring animals, but he did calm down and then was fine for the rest of the day. That didn't stop the kids from saying, for the rest of the day, "don't touch the prairie dog, he bites!!" But, once most of them saw me pet him and him not have a cow, they'd pet him as well. I kept to myself that I can usually pet him even if he's really upset, because the jerky movements and the hovering hands were scaring him, so the people who would literally just reach in and pet him, without all sorts of hesitation and jerky movements, were fine. Some of them were just making him nervous.
For at least a good half of the day, Shiloh, Myshkin, and Lexi were out of their cages and being held by other people. They did pretty good. At one point one of the chins let out a sound I'd never heard before, but neither of them were being held awkwardly or were being hurt, so I'm not sure exactly what happened for a second there.
The kids seemed interested in the rescue and in what goes on. I stumbled over trying to explain how I run the rescue but I don't get paid and no one gets paid, and then finally someone said, "so its a volunteer based organization." Thank you, yes, it is. Good way to put it. The students actually had lists of questions they could ask, a lot of them asked how the rescue started and so I told them the story of how my mom wanted a chin and so we put an ad up on craigslist, and we had people respond to the ad, but they had males, and my mom wanted a female, so we said no.... but then the people called us back Christmas eve saying that if we wanted the chins, we could just have them, cause they needed to get the chins out of the house before their Christmas party the next day. So, we drove out there, they'd already put the cage and everything by the dumpster, we loaded those up, got the chins (Cody and Tucker) and eventually re-homed them, and then people started hearing that we'd take in chinchillas. The first few years were slow, not much going on, not many rescues, but as more time went on, more people knew about the rescue, we got in more animals, and eventually I "gave in" and created the website and got us listed on PetFinder and all of that kind of stuff. Some asked about what would happen to these animals if I hadn't given in, like if I'd just taken that first pair in, rehomed them, and said ok, that's it, no more. You know, at the point when we took in those two chins, I was completely oblivious to all the animals that needed a rescue in place. I don't know what would have happened to them. Looking back with the experience I now have, I can tell you, some of them would have been released outside, others would have been dropped off at pet stores, and others people would leave in their cages, barely caring for them, throwing food in their direction every so often, because they couldn't find a good way to get rid of them.
I had a lot of the students ask if I liked my job. If I had to break it down to a barebones yes or no, yes, I do. I don't like everything about it, but my "job," in its most basic sense, is taking in, caring for, and adopting out these animals and finding them good homes. That, I like. Of course, in reality, it's not really that simple, because doing that means cleaning cages, tending to sick animals, dealing with idiots (which, with my experience in this field, I should start putting this down as a marketable skill on my resume, lol), those things aren't quite so enjoyable. But there's good and bad to everything. One of my favorite quotes is "Nothing is inherently good or bad by itself. Rather, it becomes that way through the meaning we attach to it." I feel like there's several ways to look at everything, a lot of things I could get mad about, I could just as easily roll my eyes and laugh about -- it's all in how you take things.
One good question, I thought, was how much effect this "job" has on my social life. They probably didn't realize it at the time, but it's a good question, and I think so because it's one of those things no one thinks about. What I told them was that when I had a day job, the rescue took up pretty much the rest of my free time, leading to very little other social situations. Even now, when I don't have a job and have considerably more time to devote to the rescue, the grand majority of adoptive homes, people picking up supplies, what have you, want to come on Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sundays. I'm not complaining about that, that's just reality. That's when the average person is free. The only downside of that is that that means that those days/times are when I am likely at the rescue handling adoptions or supplies transactions. I have friends, and they are understanding, but if I was the type of person to always want to party or go out with friends on the weekends, the rescue would not be the type of organization for me to run. It was actually kind of funny, because I told one of the students that often I'll have a weekend "off" where I have something of my own actually "going on" and so I don't schedule people to come by the rescue -- then I promptly realized -- those weekends off? Yeah, those are the ones that I spend either at chin shows, pet expos, or something else related to the rescue. There's no escape, haha. But it is a break from physically being at the rescue all the time.
A lot of the students seemed interested in volunteering, went through a lot of business cards today. We'll see if any of them call, you never know I suppose. One girl seemed really intent on adopting, even went as far to say that she wanted to come over this weekend -- I told her (and everyone else wanting to volunteer/stop by) to call and if I was home and was not doing anything that couldn't wait, they could probably come by. So we'll see what the future holds.
At the end of the day, I was going through some stuff in my room -- in my apartment I used to have a quote wall, where I'd paste post its of quotes I liked on the wall -- now those are all sticking to regular sheets of paper, I was going through them, and I think some of them kinda go with questions that were asked today. I had one person ask me, how do I know I'm doing it right? How do I ensure that the animals are going to good homes, that the animals are being cared for well, and so on. There's a quote that says, "it's not about getting it right, it's about knowing when it's wrong and doing something about it." And I think that's the case. I can't say every decision I make is the right one. I can't say every adoptive home is going to keep their animal forever. That'd be nice, but that isn't reality. When I started the rescue, I didn't have a chinchilla care packet. I didn't have any of the various animal care packets. I didn't have adoption forms. I didn't have our adoption contract that I had to write up in order to get on PetFinder. I didn't have the various connections with the other rescues that I have now. What really caused the changes to come about though, was literally, realizing something was wrong and needed to change. When I didn't have the forms, I used to just talk to people, get a feel for them and how they were going to care for their pet. But in all reality, I didn't know what they were going to feed it, what type of cage they had, anything like that. I remember when I was adopting out Fuzzy, I had his adoption fee at $50 because he was special needs, and I was going back and forth arguing with someone, basically saying that if they couldn't afford the $50, they couldn't afford him, as he'd had some ongoing medical problems, and he would only eat Oxbow food, which is one of the more pricy chinchilla foods. They were trying to convince me that they could save up the money over a few months, and that's when I realized, you know, something's wrong here. Sure they could save up the money, but I had no idea if they were going to house him in a fishtank or a chinchilla cage. So, the adoption form was born. I'm still not sure I've got it right -- I'm not sure there's a way to idiot-proof adoptions, but I feel it's better now.
Same with the downsizing of the rescue this past year. Same concept -- I'm not positive that a rescue can be small enough to treat every animal as if it's an "only pet," but I was able to recognize when things had gotten too out of hand, and needed to be downsized, so that I could spend more time with the rescues, socializing them, interacting with them, and less time cleaning cages and doing the grunt work that was taking away time from the important things. The problem stemmed from the fact that I had more and more people wanting to bring in pets, so I'd buy more and more tables and set up more and more cages. I think my dawning moment came mid-2012, when I started buying up the Ferret Nation cages to switch over the rescue, as the first step to consolidating and downsizing. Going back to the sayings, I found a saved/printed out horoscope from early August 2012, and it really applies. It says:
If you have got too much on your plate, the solution does not necessarily involve getting a bigger plate. You may just need take something off it. You are keen to avoid disappointing someone. You have made a promise that you would like to keep. But what if the only way to keep it, is to break yet another promise to someone else? Better that than to break a part of yourself by striving too hard to achieve the impossible. The person who will least understand your predicament, is probably the one you most need to put off.
I think this is very true, and basically, it's parallelling what I shouldn't have been doing -- getting a bigger plate. Sure, downsizing would mean possibly having a waiting list for animals to come into the rescue, but better that, than me being so swamped and overwhelmed with animals that they wouldn't be getting the attention and care they need. At the end of the day, I'm one person and can only do so much.
I had someone else ask about if some people think that a rescue makes a ton of money. I explained how last year, we brought in roughly $16,000, but had expenses of roughly $14,000. That's a lot of money, on both sides, but it's not ending up in anyone's pocket. I explained that a lot of people see a rescue for what it is on the very very surface -- getting animals for free and adopting them out for money. Sure, that's what happens, but there's so much more to it than that. I once had someone comment about how we have all those happy customers pictures, we adopt out so many animals, we must be swimming in the dough. And I remember commenting about how that's the stuff we take pictures of, because that's the happy times. Same with if we have volunteers -- earlier I had a picture of a pile of toys that myself and a volunteer made. Again, something good. Which brings me to the quote (and I don't know what these are from, movies likely), "you never see the hard days in a photo album... but those are the ones that get you from one happy snapshot to the next." I feel like that's very true. When I'm handfeeding a sick animal, no one takes a picture. When an animal dies, or I have to take one to get it put down, no one takes a picture of that either. Just like there's no pictures of anyone cleaning cages or vacuuming or anything like that. But it's the actual work that goes into the rescue which is what allows us to have customers, to have adoptive homes. The people who think that the rescue makes a ton of money -- they're oblivious to, or ignorant of, the work that actually goes into it. I used to horseback ride when I was younger, and there's a saying, "how do you make a small fortune with horses? You start with a large fortune." The same is true of the rescue. If you're doing it right, there's no money involved. The only way to have a profitable rescue (moreso than having a few hundred or a thousand or two in the bank account at the end of the year) is to care for the animals badly. Here, we keep animals a minimum of 30 days. That ensures that they're healthy, that we catch any illness that could be hiding or in an incubation period, and it also helps me learn personality, quirks, likes/dislikes, all of that. What that 30 days also does, for every animal EXCEPT chinchillas, is cost me more than I make in adopting the animal out. Chinchillas are one animal, where, if they do not require vet care, the rescue may actually make money off of them. Every other animal? Forget it. The guinea pigs eat more in veggies in the first month than I make off their $25-30 adoption fee. A profitable rescue would be one that takes in only healthy animals and immediately adopts them out for the max money possible. They'd have to ignore sickness. They'd have to ignore suffering. Here, if we get in an animal that is suffering and no amount of treatment is going to cure it, I will pay the money to have it put out of its suffering. A profitable rescue would not want to spend $50 on an animal that will not generate any income. So basically, a profitable rescue is one that shouldn't be running at all, for the sake of the animals.
A few people asked about getting attached to the animals. There definitely is that possibility. The more recent examples would be Frito and Tallie -- chins that were here a good while, long enough t get attached. Tallie was here for years, as she was one of our pedigreed breeder chins. Frito was a rescue that we had around a year's time before he was finally adopted. And you do get attached, no doubt. I don't feel bad, per se, when they go to their new homes, because people have done their adoption forms, I have looked them over, seen their cage is good, their food is good, and so I know they're going to a good home -- but it can still be sad to see them go. I had someone else, along these lines, ask about animals that die or animals that need to be put down. It doesn't matter that we've had a handful of malo chin that didn't make it, that either died or needed to be put down. It doesn't matter that we've had animals that seem fine one day, keel over the next, likely the result of a stroke or heart attack. It doesn't make it any easier to deal with. I still feel bad, I still cry. There's a quote that says "be glad that it hurts; it shows that you still care. The day you no longer feel any sorrow for a loss, you are in it for the wrong reasons." I think that's very true. I've had people say they get immune to animals passing, and I admit, you definitely get somewhat desensitized over years and years of dealing with animals passing. But it doesn't get any less sad. Maybe you learn to hide it better, that sounds more realistic. My first chins are getting up there in years. Moki passed last May, she was 8-9 years. Winx is around 9-10 years, Toby and Bailey are 7-8. Then I have Nytro, who's 13 and still kicking. It's definitely going to be rough when the remaining three (of the top 4) pass. I've pretty much decided that I'm not going to have any chins that are strictly pets, once these pass. That will free up cages for more rescues. Squishy has worked his way into my heart as sort of like a friendlier Winx #2, and he will never be sold, even if he never breeds. But short of him possibly becoming just a pet (which will be determined, in time), I will be focusing more on the rescue and on showing the pedigreed chins once my actual pet-pets die.
Anyway, so the event ended well. I pulled my car up, had help loading it again, and went home. Stayed awake just long enough for some recent adoptive homes to return their rats. Turned out, their rabbit had just died, and rather than replace the rabbit, they got the rats... which weren't the same as a rabbit, so they brought the rats back, and went out and got a rabbit. So now, we have some of the rats back.
Then, because I'd only gotten like an hour's worth of sleep since I was putting together the powerpoint slide show until the wee hours of the morning, I went to bed for a few hours. Wake up to find that the rat people had called (they had been looking at possibly buying a cage), but no message, so I didn't call them back. The person who was supposed to pick up their chin yesterday who never showed emailed back saying they did still want to get the chin, just forgot to email. Somehow, I feel like this isn't going to work out, but I will email them in the morning when I have my planner in front of me.
And I think that's really it for today. Put the critters back in their regular cages, brought Nikki back upstairs. She managed to lose like 100 grams in the past two days, I dunno quite how, so now she's being watched even more closely. Her scabs are literally falling off her body, which you would think would be good, but I almost wonder if she's not like rubbing her body on her fleece liner or on shelves, because not all the scabs are completely healed at the point they're coming off. The scab with the stitches, on her head, is half off. She has a literal divot in her head where that piece came off, I am praying it doesn't re-open, or else we will be back at the vet again. We will see. Still giving her her antibiotics as these partially open wounds are not looking promising, and will end up switching to baytril in the next day or so, as I knocked over her meds and now only have enough for the next day or so. Joy.
Tomorrow should be a good day though. Have a donation dropoff (food, food bowl, hanging vegggie thing) at 2:30, and then David's new owners are coming back around 4:30-6:30 (sometime in there, I have it written down) to adopt Chunk (chinchilla) and Apollo (chinchilla). And she's bringing a friend with her who is potentially interested in a hamster cage or two. So that's good. So we'll see how it all goes.