Interview with Town & County Humane Society

Misty Christo became the small animal manager of Town & Country Humane Society in 2016. Town&CHS is a no-kill animal shelter, whose goal is to provide shelter and sanctuary for rescued domestic and farm animals. It’s operated by volunteers and runs off of donations.

Prior to Misty accepting a position as small animal manager, she and her husband volunteered at T&CHS for several years. Together they wrapped gifts at a bookstore for shelter donations. Misty also assisted with offsite events, such as escorting dogs to the mall or the park for Earth Day.

In 2016, some friends of hers at T&CHS told her about taking in four female rats from a hoarding situation, one of whom was probably pregnant. Misty promised to take some of the males once they were born and old enough. True to her, when the babies were born, Misty visited them at the shelter. After Misty shared some minor concerns she had about the rats’ housing, a senior volunteer asked if she’d like to be the small animal manager!

Misty has always lived in Omaha, which is just a short distance from Papillion. The only time she’s eve lived anywhere else is when she moved to Lincoln to attend law school. In her words, she’s stuck around Nebraska because she worries that if she left there would be one fewer animal advocate in her home state.

Besides being the small animal manager, Misty owns five rats of her own. Below is my interview with Misty about her position. Misty will share some of her expertise about rats through future articles.

ALLISON: Tell me about your background with animals.

MISTY: I am a lifelong animal lover! I grew up with dogs, I wrote stories about animals (especially dogs), and read books about animals (especially dogs).

Our family didn’t have cats, but my brother had reptiles! It wasn’t until I moved out of my mom’s house that I lived with a cat. My experience up until that point was that I was severely allergic to cats, but I learned so long as I didn’t pet them and then stick my finger in my eye I could live with them just fine.

Then I met other animals and took them into my home. I even purchased a few small animals from pet stores before realizing that they come from horrible breeding situations, much like puppy mills.

Becoming an advocate has been a natural progression for me. I went to law school in hopes of working toward a better world for all animals. That said, people don’t need to get an advanced degree to make a meaningful difference – there are many opportunities to do right by animals and further their interests literally every single day!

ALLISON: What qualified you for the position of small animal manager?

MISTY: I had been caring for rats for about eight years at that time–educating myself on best practices concerning their housing, food, and other care. I was self-taught about rat care, and I was willing to do the research on how to best accommodate the animals we had at the time besides rats: sugar gliders, guinea pigs, and a hamster. I was also not afraid to reach out to people who know more about other species than I do. I think (I hope!) the shelter was excited to have someone so concerned with the little ones. The small animals were being well-cared for, but there’s always more we can do to better serve the animals in our care, whether at home or in a shelter.

ALLISON: What mistakes did you make when you first started?

MISTY: I incorrectly sexed a guinea pig. More accurately, I took his former owner’s word for it. He was adopted out as a female but fortunately the adopter wasn’t mad. She had him neutered and now he lives with a female guinea pig. I will not make that mistake again.

ALLISON: What do you like most about small animals?

MISTY: So much! But if I had to pick one thing off the top of my head, I guess I’d go with their little faces! Especially rodents, with their beady little eyes. Squeeeee

ALLISON: What are some memorable moments?

MISTY: I started as the small animal manager when the rat babies born at the shelter were old enough to get adopted out. There’s an enclosure accessory called a Space Pod, it’s a plastic ball that hangs from the top of an enclosure, and you’d think it could fit maybe 3 rats at most. We had 4 baby girls and 2 adults who would congregate in that thing! And it wasn’t as if they felt insecure and needed to find safety in a huddled mass. They just loved being crammed together!

MISTY: I also remember the first time I disturbed a slumbering sugar glider. Sugar gliders are a largely nocturnal animal (awake during the night), so I would carefully clean their enclosures to avoid disturbing them. They sleep in pouches, and once I thought a pouch was vacant so I went to replace it and the sugar glider inside starting “crabbing” at me. I was surprised and I admit I never got used to the sound. There were 3 sugar gliders when I started, and they’ve all since found amazing homes.

ALLISON: What do you like most about your position?

MISTY: I get to know so many different individuals that I wouldn’t get to if I didn’t volunteer. I can only care for so many animals in my own home, so it’s nice to get to know animals even though they don’t live with me. And of course, I love finding them awesome homes! I also love educating people on what these little guys need. I love being an advocate for small animals.

ALLISON: What makes you most proud about Town & County Humane Shelter?

MISTY: We are an all-volunteer shelter, so the people taking care of the animals and the grounds and the administrative duties are doing so on their own time. I’m a big believer in the notion that volunteering is a way of casting a vote on what kind of community you want to live in. We have volunteers who have been there for years as well as new faces!

ALLISON: What have you learned about animals from your position?

MISTY: I feel like I know quite a bit about animals generally. It’s humans that I’ve learned about. More people than I would have guessed are willing to set aside their preconceived ideas of what a specific animal needs in terms of food, environment, socialization, etc. People are willing to do the leg work to determine whether a specific animal is right for them if you talk to them.

ALLISON: What are some ways the community can help?

MISTY: Town & Country Humane Society welcomes new volunteers! I’d love to have small animal enthusiasts come visit my little guys and help socialize them. It’s amazing what a little hand-feeding and reassurance can do to bring out the personality in a shy animal, and it’s important to maintain socialization with the buddies who are already used to humans.

Of course, we can always use monetary donations. Check out the wish lists on our website!

Another important thing the community can do is acknowledge that there’s no such thing as an easy pet. There’s no such thing as a starter pet. Rats, guinea pigs, gerbils, hedgehogs, frogs, tarantulas; they all have complex needs like a dog or cat does. They need specific types of food and enrichment as well as adequate space to be happy and healthy. They even need to see a veterinarian when they’re sick.

If you’re an adult who thinks a child in your life could use a pet, you should educate yourself on the animal’s needs, what type of animal would be appropriate for your family, and educate your child on how to interact with the animal. Animals are delicate and can be easily frightened, and those are difficult concepts for a child to understand. Adults are in the perfect position to set an example on how to properly love and care for an animal–expect to be involved!

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