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February 18, 2014 > Animal Lending Library provides test-run pet ownership

Animal Lending Library provides test-run pet ownership

By M. J. Laird

YouÕve heard of renting DVDs and cars, borrowing books, lending money or even a helping hand, but what about renting a guinea pig? Parents need to be first in line on weekends at Sulphur Creek Nature Center if they want to have their pick from the Animal Lending Library. They often arrive early with children in tow.

Tucked in HaywardÕs hills off D Street, the animal rehabilitation and education center has operated the Animal Lending Library for more than 40 years. ÒGuinea pigs go fast,Ó says Rose Britton, director of the animal center for Sulphur Creek. ÒThey are amazingly popular.Ó Besides guinea pigs, the Animal Lending Library offers domesticated hamsters, rats, and mice on loan for a week. The $20 rental fee includes cage, food, feeding dish, and care chart.

Britton has no idea how the Animal Lending Library began. She has heard rumors that the library operated in the 1960s and even lent out wild animals like squirrels, snakes, and chipmunks. Today the program rents out only domesticated creatures. When new rental animals arrive, they first go home with volunteers and staff to insure stamina and compatibility to withstand the comings and goings of animal rental. BrittonÕs two daughters earned hands-on experience when little, often as the ones to socialize and play with the new animals. ÒWe were known as the animal family,Ó says Arabelle, now 25.

Britton, who came to the nature center as a preteen volunteer in the 1970s, shepherds families toward rats when they are looking to buy a pet. The Animal Lending Library gives want-to-be owners a test-run in pet ownership and its responsibilities without making a full commitment. ÒI always recommend the rats,Ó explains Britton. ÒThey are very responsive. They are trainable, and they are very smart. They interact with people.Ó

By comparison, she says, ÒThe mice donÕt seem to know one person from another. You can hold a mouse, but it doesnÕt know you from the next person.Ó While hamsters are adorable, she likens them to Òlittle babies that never grow up.Ó Britton believes people swarm to guinea pigs because they are docile. ÒThey sit on your lap for long periods of time while you watch TV, but people can get bored with them. Then owners leave them in their cages.Ó

Guinea pigs, which live up to six years, often arrive at the rehabilitation center as unwanted pets. The center often purchases teddy-bear long and short hair hamsters; Sulphur Creek breeds its own mice and rats in colonies; rats come in black, white, brown and grey, both hooded and whole colors.

Making the case for rats as pets, Britton says, ÒWhen volunteers and staff walk up to the rat cages, the rats poke their heads out. They want to see who is there. They respond to you. The rats are the best, but most people donÕt like them because of their tails. Ó Britton says the pet rat she owned would jump up in his cage and wait by his door when she returned home from work.

The Animal Lending Library is open on Saturdays and Sundays and operates on a first-come, first served basis, lending up to 12 animals each weekend, about half of its library. Animals rotate, a week when they are available for rental, then a week at the center for volunteers to inspect, interact, and monitor their health. Animal rental peaks during summer and school holidays. Demand drops off to nil the week before school starts.

ÒPeople really seem to like the program,Ó says Britton. ÒWe have some people calling and begging to let them keep the animal, but we require the animal be returned.Ó She says she has only had to make a few phone calls to plead with people to return the animals.

ÒThis program is a nice way for people to try different animals before they actually get one for their kids,Ó says Britton. ÒIf everyone took pet ownership seriously, then we wouldnÕt have animal control filled with unwanted animals. Owning a pet is a long term commitment that people need to take seriously.Ó

Animal Lending Library
Saturdays and Sundays
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Sulphur Creek Nature Center
1801 D St., Hayward
(510) 881-6747

Rental Fee: $20 weekly, plus $40 credit card deposit and driverÕs license identification

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