Community Papers

Abandoned animals find refuge

Mitchell Neufeld and Ren Hunt have been operating an exotic animal rescue centre in Vernon for four years where they care for and adopt out creatures like Dexter the dumeril boa, Macaw and Kiwi the chinchilla. - Jennifer Smith/Morning Star
Mitchell Neufeld and Ren Hunt have been operating an exotic animal rescue centre in Vernon for four years where they care for and adopt out creatures like Dexter the dumeril boa, Macaw and Kiwi the chinchilla.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith/Morning Star

A Vernon couple who has spent the last four years rescuing exotic animals is hoping to find some loving homes for the unique creatures.

Mitch Neufeld, 22, and Ren Hunt, 21, currently have a full house.

There’s 10 snakes, 17 rabbits, five chinchillas, three parrots, two turtles, one tortoise, a piranha, an iguana, one water dragon, five guinea pigs, 14 rats, a family of ferrets and 11 ducks.

The array of animals have come to the Vernon Exotic and Small Animal Rescue home in various forms.

Many come from owners who at first are thrilled at the novelty of owning an exotic pet, only to discover they cannot keep up with the care needs or lose interest in them.

“They go into a pet store, spend all this money on these cages and then get tired of it,” said Neufeld, noting that people with parrots have them for an average of five years before losing interest in the birds, who can outlive humans.

Other cases, such as Dunkan the quaker parrot, are a different story.

“He came in from a crack house,” said Neufeld of the bird that was so malnourished that he cracked the top off his beak after flying into a wall and has cost the couple $1,100 in vet bills to date.

Although many people think of their pets as children, Neufeld says there aren’t the same protections for animals as there are for children.

“Our animal laws in B.C. are terrible, just because they’re smoking crack doesn’t mean we can take the animals away.”

While Dunkan is one of the more extreme cases, animals find reprieve through the Vernon couple from varying circumstances.

Another parrot, Jadie Baby, was found in a park.

A gorgeous Macaw was taken in from Sicamous as his mother was dying.

One of the ferrets was found by Walmart in September and is one of several whom the couple are treating for tumours.

“It’s just so sad to see, it’s heartbreaking,” said Hunt as she visits with each of the little critters.

Then there’s Flash Gordon, a sulcata tortoise.

“We got him from a guy who had him in a cardboard box,” said Hunt. “He was eating his own poop because he was so hungry.”

The Vernon couple have also housed several red-eared slider turtles.

“People get them when they’re toonie sized,” said Neufeld of the turtles that generally outgrow and outlive their owners.

Many people end up setting the turtles free in local lakes and ponds, but Mitchell advises against that.

“They eat everything, they eat ducks and push out all the other turtles.”

Across the room from the two turtles currently at the rescue home (Neufeld can’t take anymore due to space), there’s another tank where a one-eyed piranha lives.

Next to his aquarium is a water dragon who is also missing an eye, has a lopped tail and nose rub.

“He’s a super nice little guy.”

Then there’s the snakes. Neufeld doesn’t let anyone hold most of the snakes, as they are wild creatures, except for the dumeril boa.

“In the wild they’re basically extinct,” he explains of the boa.

But whether it’s a short-tailed borneo, which Neufeld says are terrible pets, or any other breed of snake, he advises against owning them.

“You shouldn’t own them as pets, they should be in the wild.”

While Neufeld and Hunt don’t support anyone buying exotic animals for pets, they have offered their love and support to those who have no where to go.

“We’re basically at our limit but we’ll always find room for that needed case,” said Neufeld.

The couple, who each work two jobs (Hunt is also a student), are finding it harder to afford the care and are running out of space therefore are hoping for some community help.

There is no funding for their work, therefore every $75 vet examination fee is paid out of their pocket, along with $900 quarterly Hydro bills and food.

Anyone interested in adopting an animal or making a donation (whether monetary or supplies such as food, towels, glass and wood or old cabinets to build enclosures, or assistance with the animals or building enclosures) can email or visit


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