Today, there appears to be an increasing need for rescue care and often the big organisations such as the RSPCA are full to overflowing, or there may be no such centre in your area. Hamsters may need rescue care for many reasons. People are more mobile today and may move to new homes where animals are not allowed or through illness they may not be able to care for the hamster. Hamsters may have been bought on impulse and then be unwanted or to have been bought for a child and then found unhandleable. Hamsters may have been bred from without sufficient forethought as to what will happen to the young, or as seems to be happening increasingly, shops may sell hamsters which turn out to be pregnant and then refuse to take the babies. Even more sadly there are a few individuals who inflict deliberate cruelty. For all these reasons, hamsters may have been abandoned or in need of rescue.
If you decide that you would like to help by setting up a rescue service and you feel there is a need in your area, there are questions to answer. Firstly, what type of rescue? Can you just take a single hamster in an emergency when there should be few problems, or do you intend to offer a proper service? If the latter then there are two main problems:
1. How much space do you have?
You will need sufficient cages and remember that any new animals coming in may be ill or have parasites, so every new hamster must be isolated for at least the first week, and there must be space to separate the sexes if they are over five weeks old (this goes for Dwarfs and Syrians).
2. Do you plan to keep the rescued hamsters or re-home them?
Having thought about these answers and decided that you can offer a service, check on the following:
(i) Decide on a maximum number and stick to it.
(ii) Make an isolation area where any new hamster goes, however healthy it may seem at first glance, and keep it there until you are certain that it has no illness or parasites. It is not worth putting all your others at risk.
(iii) It is advisable to check that your own tetanus immunisation is up to date, as you may get bitten when handling intractable animals.
(iv) Have simple, easily cleaned cages which are large enough, as with a lot of hamsters you may be unable to give them daily handling or time out of the cages.
(v) Never breed with rescue hamsters as you will then only add to the number of unwanted animals.
(vi) Check with your local council as they may consider this a change of use of your home and this could lead to an alteration to your rates, or require planning permission. It is also courteous to inform your neighbours of your plans. If any money is involved then you must keep careful records for tax purposes.
(vii) Find a vet who is interested in hamsters and visit him to explain what you are doing and make an enquiry as to his charges and whether he does emergency out of hours visits. You may find that he or she is willing to charge lower fees for rescue animals. It is advisable to ask the vet or the local RSPCA officer if they will carry out an annual inspection.
(viii) If you plan to find new homes for the hamsters, a charge should always be made and the suitability of the new owners checked. Keep records of the new homes and ask the owners to sign a declaration that they understand how to feed and care for the hamster and provide them with a care leaflet. If possible you should check on the new homes after say, a month, to see that everything is going smoothly.
(ix) If the hamster is going to a home with children, make sure that it can be handled safely, and is not likely to bite.
(x) If you reach your maximum number, don't be tempted to take any more, or you will not be able to look after those that you have already taken on. Keep a list of other organisations which may rescue hamsters and have their phone numbers handy. Remember that the SHC keep a list of members who are willing to take in hamsters or help in times of special need.
I know that among members there are those who run rescue units, so perhaps they could write to the journal giving extra advice or telling of their experiences.
Thanks to Maureen Abbot of Cottontails Rabbit Sanctuary of Bristol for allowing me to use points from her article in Fur & Feather.