Jim and Crystal Kennedy have been running a makeshift animal rescue from their basement in Gorham since 2001, but the furry animals that make up their adoption and hospice care facility are not your traditional cats and dogs – they’re ferrets.
For the Kennedys, who have been married for nearly 30 years and are both 59, ferrets make great pets, which they learned one year after their marriage, when they adopted their first ferret, named Bandit.
Margaret Friar, a professor of biology at the University of New England, volunteers at Seymour’s Bird Refuge in Cumberland and is an avid lover of parrots. Friar helps to educate potential customers about the difficulties and draws of taking on exotic birds as pets.
The Kennedys and Friar, all baby boomers and lovers of non-traditional pets, say that while there are challenges, there are also many rewards for owning these animals.
The Ferret Rescue of Maine began in 2001 when the Kennedys received a number of ferrets from a former rescue owner who was moving to Florida, and quickly became a licensed nonprofit. Kennedy said that many volunteers help the rescue in fundraising efforts, raising money through bake sales and car washes.
Kennedy added that the rescue has had volunteers adopt several ferrets through the years, and have also done fostering for the shelter. This includes Dawn Schell, who is in her 60s, loves ferrets and has provided a home for them when in need.
“If we have a special case that needs a home away from the shelter, she’ll take them,” he said. “She’s adopted four or five from us.”
Jim Kennedy said their first ferret was more of an “impulse buy,” but that they quickly realized their love for the animals.
“We kind of bought one before we knew anything about them, but we’ve had them ever since,” he said.
Kennedy added that while many at the shelter, including ferret lovers over 50, believe that they make for great pets, it’s good to know what you’re getting into. “Ferrets are very mischevious, more than a cat,” he said. “As we get older we tend to slow down, so some retirees may not have the stamina to chase ferrets.”
However, Kennedy also said that Schell and other rescue volunteers in their 60s “are still going strong” in their love and caring for their ferrets, and are still adopting. Kennedy said caring for ferrets can be relatively easy with patience. Harnesses are available for the animal for owners who want to take them for walks.
For the avid bird lover, however, taking these on as a pet and into old age can prove tricky for some. But, Friar said, you simply have to know your animal.
Friar uses her time at Seymour’s to help clean cages, but she also helps to train the birds.
“I try to make them more social and more adoptable,” she said. “I like to interact with some of the birds that have problems.”
Friar said she first bought a parrot in the 1990s and was quickly interested in their behavior and training. This led to Friar seeking out behavior and training techniques for parrots by using positive reinforcement. Friar, who is 56, owns both a parrot and a parakeet that she adopted from Seymour’s.
Friar has a doctorate in biology, but said her area of interest is animal behavior.
“I’ve always been interested in behavior,” she said. “But more recently, in how to change it.”
She said that parrots, which can live up to 80 years, can make good pets for some people, but added that they are very smart.
“I love parrots because they are really fun to interact with, and fun to watch,” she said.
Friar said parrots aren’t as food-motivated as other pets.
“They’re really interested in objects and opening things, so they’re very interesting,” she said.
She also said that parrots can be good pets for baby boomers and beyond.
“If someone is homebound, for example, or doesn’t get out a lot, they’re great,” she said.
However, she said that at Seymour’s, they often see people who have recently purchased a parrot or other exotic bird, but are bringing it in to the rescue to put up for adoption.
“Sometimes you can tell that they didn’t think it through,” she said. “But for people who are devoted to giving the bird a forever home, they’re great.”