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A Critter’s Chance

Nonprofit Helps Exotic and Farm Animals Find Health, Happiness & Homes

Writer  /  Christy Heitger-Ewing

Founded in February 2006 as a non-profit animal advocacy organization, A Critter’s Chance was run for seven years by wildlife rehabber Michelle Manker who started a rescue center for abandoned and injured exotic animals. Sadly, Manker passed away in 2013 and the group briefly fizzled. In 2014, however, animal advocates resurrected the organization. Amanda Nosie is now the president, and Kelly Thomas, the vice president, lives on and runs the 8-acre property in Avon.

The nonprofit relies on volunteers to transport animals, build shelters, maintain habitats and provide experienced foster care homes.

“Most of these animals come from abused or neglected situations,” Thomas says. “We do home checks and references to ensure the animals are healthy and safe.”

The organization adopts and rescues exotics (meaning any wild animal that’s not native to Indiana and is bought as a pet). They’ve housed a wide variety of critters, including pigs, roosters, goats, porcupine, foxes, rabbits, horses, birds, peacocks, turtles and iguanas. Currently, Thomas is even fostering a muntjac, which is a miniature deer that’s native to southern Asia.

“A family dropped off a trailer full of animals, and this muntjac, whom I named Taco, was among them,” says Thomas. A Critter’s Chance also took in Flash, an African spurred tortoise that the DNR confiscated from a woman who had locked it in a dark, cold shed. It was a dangerous environment for an animal who needs 70+ degree temperatures to thrive.

“Unfortunately, there are plenty of breeders in Indiana who sell these animals, but the care instructions don’t typically go along with the sale,” says Thomas, who takes Sheldon, another African spurred tortoise on field trips around town to educate the community about proper animal care.

Sheldon, who, for the past eight years, has been a permanent resident at A Critter’s Chance, has unwittingly become the group’s mascot. Because he was malnourished when he was young, his shell is deformed.

“They’re strictly herbivores, so when they’re fed protein, it can create problems in their joints and bones to the point that the shell can grow the opposite way and end up crushing their organs or cutting off a limb,” Thomas explains. “People need to do their research before buying these animals as pets.”

Flash, however, recently found a new home in sunny Florida, thanks to Southwest Airlines who kindly donated a seat for Flash to fly down to her new sanctuary in Jacksonville.

The nonprofit depends on donations to pay their hefty vet and food bills. Plus, they spay and neuter every animal who comes in. In addition, certain creatures like foxes are territorial and are not meant to live in residences so volunteers must build private enclosures as these will be the animals’ permanent homes.

The organization keeps track of every animal that comes in, even a flock of chickens. Intake for 2016 was 443 and total for this year (as of early June) was just under 200. Thomas says the organization desperately needs farm animal fosters.

“People get these cute pot-bellied pigs that they think are going to stay small but they don’t,” Thomas says. “Pigs aren’t allowed unless you’re zoned for agriculture, and most people live in subdivisions with HOAs.”

Many of the animals that come to A Critter’s Chance are a result of poor planning or faulty logic. For example, they get tons of rabbits just after Easter when people change their minds about raising a bunny.

“A domestic rabbit can’t fend for or camouflage itself so releasing it into the world is like leaving bait for a wild animal,” Thomas says.

In the spring, people also release baby ducklings onto ponds without knowing they can’t fly. When the ponds freeze over, they have nothing to drink or eat, essentially rendering them helpless.

The organization uses social media and Petfinder to find suitable homes for the critters. And though most of the animals come in from Indiana, they get calls from other states as well. Last year two pigs were adopted and moved to Iowa. Thomas’ farm currently has four horses, six pigs, countless chickens, roosters, ducks and rabbits, several foxes, a parrot, peacocks, quail, pheasants and, of course, Taco and Sheldon. Warmer weather months see a rise in adoptions simply because, logistically speaking, it’s harder to take in an outdoor animal in the winter.

“As soon as the animals are healthy enough to be adopted, we’re eager to find them homes so we can make room for others,” Thomas says.

She’d love to place a mare and her baby, who, when they first arrived, were nothing but bones. The mare was so malnourished that she couldn’t produce milk for her baby. Now they are both beautiful and healthy, running the fields with shiny coats and happy neighs. Witnessing such miraculous transformations is precisely why Thomas is dedicated to this work.

“When we first get an animal in, you can see the fear in their eyes,” Thomas says. “They’re hurt, they’re hungry, they’re wary.

Over time, they learn to trust people again, even looking excited to see people.”

The organization keeps an up-to-date Amazon wish list so anyone who is interested in making a donation may visit their Facebook page. They’re always in need of hay, medical supplies (saline, iodine) and grocery store gift cards.

“We buy a ton of poultry to feed the foxes,” Thomas says.

Right now, they’re trying to raise money for new roofing on the pens as some of the roofing got blown off in a tornado. They would also like to build durable aviaries and fox pens that will protect the animals from sun, rain and snow.

“These domestics rely on people because they can’t take care of themselves,” Thomas says. “They’re at a loss and they get let down. That’s why we’re here — to be their voice.”

For more information or to ask about volunteer opportunities, e-mail acritterschance@gmail.com.

About Christy Heitger-Ewing

Christy Heitger-Ewing is an award-winning writer and columnist who writes human interest stories for national, regional, and local magazines. She is also the author of the book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com).

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