In 2009, a stray ferret, malnourished and covered in fleas, approached a group having a picnic in a park outside of Cincinnati. The group took him to the nearby Boone County Animal Shelter, where he was soon adopted by Madison Schleibaum. Two years later, a second ferret — who was brought to the shelter by a woman who found her in her garden — also found a home with Schleibaum.
The ferrets — named Garak and Kes — were living proof that all species of animals need someone to care for them when their owners are unable to.
Inspired by their stories, Schleibaum, a registered veterinary technician who frequently works with the Boone County Animal Shelter, founded the Ohio Pet Sanctuary in September 2012.
Now the rescue is preparing its first brick-and-mortar facility, which is scheduled to open in Anderson later this month. The building will provide animals temporary housing while they wait for adoption and provide rehabilitation services, shelter and care. Previously, pets were fostered in volunteers’ homes, and adoptions were facilitated online.
“With our new facility, people can come and meet several animals at once and we can better match pets with families,” Schleibaum says. “There is the added benefit of more human interaction with a central location.”
According to Schleibaum, last year the Ohio Pet Sanctuary took in 49 pets, the largest number of animals they’ve ever had come through. Every animal was adopted within six months of becoming available.
The rescue focuses on species that have fewer facilities available to them, including birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and small reptiles. It also provides re-homing assistance for cats and dogs.
“We have had emaciated animals from hoarding situations that require constant nutrient monitoring and physical therapy, and those animals are cared for differently than (those with) mental illness due to neglect or abuse,” Schleibaum says. “Fortunately, we have a fantastic veterinarian, Dr. Debbie Kemper, who we work very closely with.”
The cost for rehabilitation varies depending on the animal species and the treatment they need.
“In October, we brought in two one-day-old kittens that required bottle feeding, vaccination, spay, neuter, etc.,” Schleibaum says. “The cost was much higher than for Whispy, a rabbit from an overcrowding situation who has nothing physically wrong with her, but we are working to make her amenable to human handling.”
One of the most memorable rehabilitation stories for Schleibaum was when the sanctuary took in a green parakeet in March named Marty, who was found as a stray at a gas station during the winter.
“He had clearly been lost for quite some time,” she says. “He was emaciated, terrified, his beak was rotting, his feathers were unhealthy and he was infested with parasites. He stayed at the county animal shelter for his mandatory stray-hold period and then transferred to us.
“We cleared his parasites, the ladies at (bird supply and services store) The Bird Shoppe helped us reshape his beak, we put weight on him,” she continues. “Before he went to his wonderful new home, he was starting to molt out his unhealthy feathers and get in beautiful new green ones. When he was healthier, he really had a great personality.”
To begin the process of adoption, interested applicants must first fill out an online form at ohiopetsanctuary.com. Adoptions are not allowed if the potential adopter has not met the animal in person. Contact and arrange a supervised meeting at the sanctuary with the pet and its caretaker if you are interested in adopting.
“If the animal has a history of known illness, we request a letter confirming an established relationship with a veterinarian who is qualified to continue care for that species,” Schleibaum says. “We also reserve the right to deny adoption for any reason we see fit. We get to know these animals well and generally have a good idea if a home will not be a good fit.”
More than 20 animals are currently available for adoption, including small parrots, kittens and over a dozen rabbits.
To fund the facility, Schleibaum says she used her personal money as well as proceeds from the rescue’s ongoing Cans for Critters metal can drive. The rescue also has an online store that sells animal-themed products like T-shirts, jewelry and more.
“Our hope with the new building is that we can generate more money through the sales of the pet products and hopefully be able to afford to help more animals,” Schleibaum says.
“The new building will have pet supplies available for sale in our storefront. We want people to feel good about purchasing supplies for their own pets because they can see the animals (that) the purchase is helping. We don’t want people to feel guilty or obligated to donate or otherwise give money they don’t have.”