It’s funny how a block in the road can lead you down a path perhaps you were meant to take all along. I was planning to write about a parrot rescue, but it fell through at the last minute leaving me with nothing to chirp about. That’s when I started thinking about how my Beach Metro column began.
More than 120 years ago, a compassionate Torontonian made a $2 donation towards the rescue of an aging workhorse. That thoughtful gesture was the inspiration behind the historical landmark known as our Toronto Humane Society. Nestled just beyond the century-old Riverside Bridge is a place that has withstood the test of time and squabbles over which paths to follow. The building may change, but one thing is constant: it will always attract people bubbling over with enthusiasm and, dare I say, dogged determination to make a difference for animals in need.
Almost 20 years ago, I pitched an idea to Beach Metro News about featuring abandoned pets up for adoption at the Toronto Humane Society. The idea came to me in my role as an overly enthusiastic volunteer dog walker. I knew I could do more than posting a “Dog of the Week” write-up on the clipboards attached to cages in the adoption room.
As my column gained momentum, I got a job in the fundraising department at THS and spent seven years riding the emotional roller coaster of working full time at an animal shelter. It’s hard to believe I’ve been gone for 10 years.
Many of you may recall the leadership change at the time and the ensuing turmoil that cast a shadow on such a special place. It was a difficult decision to leave, although it led to my expanding the column to feature many worthy organizations within our animal welfare community.
But a rat brought me back to 11 River St. If he could talk above a squeak he’d say, “It’s about time!”
I met with Devon, Special Species Adoption Counsellor for THS. Her enthusiasm reminded me of how I was back in the day.
As Devon cheerfully led me down the familiar yet refreshed hallways of the shelter, I began to realize it was more than just her positive outlook and a new coat of paint lightening my mood. There was something infectiously joyful about the place. From the staff to the volunteers, everyone seemed happy to be there. Great things are happening here once again!
No shelter can ever be mistaken for a real home for pets, but THS is far more than just a roof over their heads. The rooms for dogs, cats and special species have all expanded. And so have the caregivers! An impressive 500-plus volunteers help enrich the lives of these precious pets-in-waiting.
While dogs reside on one side of the building and cats rule the penthouse suites above, the special species are in a bark- and purr-free zone filling three rooms. Rabbits hop about in spacious cages. Gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice and rats enjoy all the amenities a rodent would require. In the back of one room, a few lizards sun themselves under heat lamps while red-eared sliders dive into turtle-sized swimming pools.
A tortoise found her way into the shelter recently, compelling staff to take a crash course on how to provide five-star accommodations for a species boasting such an incredible prehistoric legacy. There are a few birds looking for permanent perches too.
Last but not least, I arrived at ‘rat world.’ A staggering 23 abandoned rats currently reside at the shelter. It started in February when a taped-up box was found outside the back of a pet store. Inside the box were 17 baby rats near death from exposure. Since then more abandoned rats have shown up at the same pet store, leading investigators to believe someone is breeding rats in the area then dumping them like garbage.
THS is at full capacity with special species. Many come from nearby shelters without the resources to care for them. Nevertheless, Devon’s team doesn’t rush the adoption process for the domestic animals in their care. It’s important that prospective adopters are well educated before taking the pet plunge. After all, special species require special care.
This adorable little rat with the brown smudge on his nose was one of five abandoned behind the pet store in May. The staff dubbed the all-male rat pack ‘The Baseball Boys,’ naming them after our beloved Blue Jays. Loup and Encarnacion have been adopted but Delabar (pictured here) and his buddies, Bautista and Dickey, are still looking for their home plate.
As Devon gently brought Delabar out to meet me from his dugout of shredded cardboard, any ideas I may have had about rats being icky flew out the window like a wild pitched baseball. Apparently domestic rats are like very tiny dogs. They love people, snacking on veggies and fruit, exploring their world and the benefits of higher learning! They can be litter-trained and even clicker-trained to perform tricks or to stay safely within their boundaries at home.
Five month-old Delabar was curious but cautious as I held out my hand. A rat needs time to get to know you before being completely comfortable in your presence. One week of spring training and I’m sure we’d be hitting home runs.
I planned to interview a parrot and this is where I ended up. The best laid plans of mice and men … or rats in this case. I’ll never complain about a roadblock again.
The Baseball Boys have all found new families, but the Toronto Humane Society (torontohumanesociety.com) has plenty of other rats in need of a home. For more information call 416-392-2273 ext. 2102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.