When she was in Grade 9, Kayla Lamers rescued a rabbit from a meat farm and adopted it as a pet. When he saw it, her dad put his foot down: “No more,” he told her.
“No more” has turned into three hamsters, a gerbil, four rabbits, eight degus (which look like large, bushy-tailed gerbils), two budgies and a rat. None of them would be considered prize specimens, and that’s exactly why Lamers has them.
“I usually take the ones that need extra care, that are sick or injured or deformed. Basically the ones that nobody wants,” Lamers says. “I have one rabbit now that has a cone on his head because he had surgery and he can’t chew his stitches. I’m getting another bunny on the 15th. It has no ears; the mother chewed them off at birth, so it’s a little deformed.”
Lamers, now 19 and an employee of the Village Pet Food Shoppe, takes in aggressive pets that need a calm home and sick animals that need nursing.
Some of the animals come to her through work and some by word of mouth, from people who know her only as the “hamster lady“ or the “bird lady.” When she can, Lamers finds homes for pets she’s nursed back to health.
Lamers has always had a passion for animals, especially small animals. Small animals are often the ones that need a home, because they’re more likely to be impulse buys.
“People are also less willing to pay vet bills for a $5 pet when it gets sick than a dog or cat. If the animals she takes in need surgery, Lamers takes them to a friendly vet at the Waterloo West Animal Hospital and pays for it out of her own pocket.
Looking after so many animals takes time as well as money. She estimates she spends two or three hours a day cleaning out cages and litter boxes and giving the animals individual attention.
“I monitor how much water they’re drinking and how much they weigh and they go for annual vet checkups. The degus I have are prone to diabetes, so my vet taught me how to test for diabetes in them. And if they do [get it], then you have to give them insulin.”
She also researches animal care on her own time. Lamers does it because she cares about the animals, but also because it’s good practice for the future. She plans to study science at the University of Guelph and then become a vet herself.
She’s also planning to get her wildlife rehabilitation licence so she can care for wild animals as well. She works with a local wildlife rehabber, taking care of squirrels, raccoons and wild birds.
Many of the domestic pets she takes in – like her three hamsters – have been abandoned by their owners because they’re aggressive. Lamers explained aggressive pets aren’t born that way: they become aggressive because their owners don’t know how to handle them.
“A 10-year-old kid’s not going to understand, OK, the hamster sleeps all day so I can’t grab at it. It’s sleeping, it wants to be left alone. Of course it’s going to bite you.”
When she was young, Lamers hated cleaning her hamster’s cage because she was afraid of it. As she got older, she understood why it was sometimes mean. Now, Lamers said, she’s been bitten so many times it doesn’t faze her.
“I was helping a friend bathe a hedgehog the other day: it wasn’t impressed and it clamped on.”
It took some coaxing for her parents to let her take in animals and they won’t let her have an unlimited number, but they’re generally understanding.
“A lot of parents, I’m sure, wouldn’t let their kids have that amount of animals.”
And she’s introduced her parents to animals smaller than the two retrievers that have the run of the house.
“My dad says he doesn’t like degus, but you’ll see him walk over to the cage and pet them.”