Nestled in German Valley, Illinois, is Critter Camp, a 501(c)(3), USDA-licensed, all volunteer-operated pet sanctuary that only accepts unadoptable and unusual small pets. It is run with blood, sweat and tears by the Randall family with the help of generous volunteers. It has come a long way from where it began. And due to a pending new TV series, it might be able to go much further.
Beth Randall is the creator and operator. This year marks the exotic pet sanctuary’s 10th anniversary. The rescue survives on donations given for its educational presentations in the community, tours, individual donations from caring people from all over, and a few small grants.
It all began with Alex Randall, Beth’s now 22-year-old son. Today he is a key figure and volunteer for Critter Camp. But just over a decade ago, he was every bit as lost as the unwanted pets that live at the sanctuary. He struggles with Landau-Kleffner Syndrome Variant, which has resulted in autism and epilepsy. About 14 years ago, Beth quit her jobs to give Alex the intense therapy and homeschooling that he needed. One of his assignments was to complete in-depth research about various unusual pets he wanted. For a reward Beth allowed him to get two ferrets. Because the ferrets were unique, people started bringing unusual pets to them that no one wanted. Alex’s condition improved considerably with caring for the added family members. Beth and Alex found out very quickly how next to impossible it is to find homes for these special animals. One thing led to another and in 2004, Critter Camp became an official sanctuary.
Currently, the facility is about full to capacity with more than 300 animals of 30 different species. The Randall family shares every bit of living space available in their home with the animals. There is very little furniture. For example, the living room consists of a 10-year-old couch, a wooden chair and a TV.
In addition to giving up living space, every spare minute is spent caring for the animals. Vacations ended after the sanctuary opened, and every week brings a scramble to raise funds for the animals’ care. The family misses out on many little things in life we all take for granted, such as curtains on the windows, which the animals would shred if the sanctuary had curtains. But the Randall family happily makes these sacrifices. The animals have wonderful enclosures and excellent vet care in the home, but Beth would like to do even better for the animals there. More importantly, she wants Critter Camp to expand so they can save more souls who otherwise have nowhere else to go.
Beth is trying her hardest to make one of Alex’s dreams come true. “Critter Camp’s future is to build a stand-alone facility able to give a home to over 1,000 small pets, and educate tens of thousands of people each year,” she said. “Thanks to a large grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project, we purchased 3 acres of land about 8 miles from here. It is fully build-able, permitted and ‘shovel-ready.’ All we need now is a sponsor or funding for the building.”
Alex can’t wait until the day he can be part of that. “Yes I want to help when we build a building too.” Beth goes on to say that in the future, Alex would be a paid employee of a new facility, and she hopes to be able to have a paid staff.
Beth’s perseverance over the years has led to an incredible opportunity that could make all of their dreams come true.
Alycia Barlow-Hadfield is a producer of an upcoming TV show called Animal House. The series will renovate or build animal shelters in struggling communities. You can learn about the show at its website. Barlow-Hadfield describes the show as heartwarming and inspirational.
“We are preparing to shoot the pilot episode of Animal House and will then be in a position to lock a home for the show on network television, cable television or with an online content provider,” Barlow-Hadfield said. “We are spotlighting important topics and organizations, so it’s crucial that the Animal House live on a channel where the integrity of the show is protected. In the animal rescue world there is plenty of drama and comedy! Adding scripted drama would cheapen the very serious work these amazing organizations are doing.”
The first season is to be filmed by the fall of 2015. Critter Camp has been chosen to be featured in the first season of the show when it gets underway. This was announced on May 3, 2014.
Barlow-Hadfield said that Critter Camp stood out to them not just for their outstanding work and dedication to helping animals or by being so well run, but because they are so vital in filling a void in helping exotic animals who typically fall through the cracks.
“It’s organizations like Critter Camp who speak up, educate, and help build more responsible and animal friendly communities,” Barlow-Hadfield said. “Their organization is doing exemplary work, rescuing and rehabilitating animals, educating the public, and all their work is being done out of a less-than-ideal location. It’s very difficult for smaller organizations to raise enough funds to construct or remodel buildings, as most of their funds go directly to the animals in their care, and there’s simply no money left over to put toward construction.”
The producer sings praises of Beth’s son Alex. She said he has a different relationship and understanding of animals. “Having the opportunity to be a part of the show is a dream come true for Alex.” More importantly it would be a dream come true for the high numbers of needy animals that have little to no hope. This show is offering just that … hope.
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