While dog and cat rescue organizations are commonplace and well-known, other animals often need saving too. Nicole Moss is a local Clark County resident with a passion for all hamsters. She has turned that passion into a mission with Zitch Hamster Rescue, a local Clark County animal rescue group that takes in hamsters suffering from neglect or if an owner can no longer care for them.

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Nicole Moss and her first rescue, Henry. Photo credit: Benjamin Baxter

“I have had hamsters since childhood, although I started owning them as an adult in college,” says Nicole, “that’s when I really fell in love with having hamsters around!” Since dorms don’t allow large pets, such as dogs or cats, Nicole found a hamster was the perfect dorm room mate. “I had a

special bond with my hamster in my college years named Pumpkin,” she adds. And just like a dog or a cat, she found Pumpkin to be the best therapy when she needed it most. “She helped me through difficult times more than one would think a small critter could.”

Starting A Rescue

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a lot of changes for many people. For Nicole, it presented an opportunity to help animals in need. “We had just moved into our house that had an extra room that became my rescue room,” Nicole explains. “I figured I should put all of my spare time being quarantined at

home to good use!” Her first rescue, Henry, was a hamster she came across on Craigslist in early 2020. “Henry was housed in a very small cage, the children from his previous family had grown tired of him. Having the privilege of watching him grow from a timid, neglected animal into a sweet and flourishing pet was the spark I needed to continue bringing in hamsters in need, and create a space for more animals like him.”

The name Zitch comes from a favorite TV show of Nicole’s, and was suggested by a friend of hers. “The name is definitely a little goofy, it technically comes from the TV show ‘How I Met Your Mother,’” she explains. “They play a game called ‘Zitch Dog’ in one episode, which is something that carried over for years between my best friends and I. My friend proposed the name Zitch Hamster Rescue when we were brainstorming, and it made me laugh so it stuck!”

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Nicole holding Gracie. “This was the first time I held her successfully because she was so nervous when she came in,” she says. Photo credit: Kaitlin Bynum

Things have picked up quickly for her since starting her rescue. In 2020 she rescued and adopted out 25 hamsters and so far in 2021, she has adopted out 31. “I’m hoping to hit 50 adoptions by the end of the year!” she says.

Nicole says that lack of knowledge is usually the main reason hamsters end up in bad situations. “There is usually a deep lack of knowledge surrounding proper care,” she explains. “Pet stores have so many inappropriate supplies and cages for hamsters (and all species of small animals). Well-intentioned people who don’t do any research into current care standards will end up getting the incredibly small and unsuitable cages, low quality food, and unusable wheels that are pushed by pet stores for profit.”

She also notes that some people see small animals as more disposable than a dog or cat, so when the child loses interest, they will simply set them loose to be “free.” But these are domesticated, non-native animals that don’t have the skills to survive in the wild. “I have had multiple hamsters brought in that were found outside,” Nicole shares. “One was found in an alleyway (lovingly named Alley) with multiple fractures and injuries. Another was brought in by a kind person who found two hamsters in a box next to a dumpster, left to be attacked by crows, which ultimately led to the death of one of them.”

Adopting A Hamster

So, are hamsters a good pet? I’ve owned a lot of animals in my life, but never a hamster. I was never sure if they made a good pet, but Nicole assures me they are actually full of personality and can be amazing housemates. “Hamsters are low-maintenance compared to some pets, but also very interactive and fun animals that keep you on your toes!” she explains. “They can have unique connections with humans. They are a lot of fun to have around!”

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Bagel and I at the Vancouver Farmer’s Market doing our tabling day in June 2021. Photo credit: Benjamin Baxter

But, it’s important for parents to remember that they are a two-to-three-year commitment, Nicole says, and most likely the child will not be taking care of it every day. “I would say any parent looking to get their child a small animal should absolutely be prepared to provide a full lifetime of care for that pet when their child most likely loses interest after a while,” she cautions. “The majority of my rescues come from parents who don’t want to take care of the animal they presumed their child would be responsible for.”

And, they need proper care to be a good pet. “Hamsters are sensitive creatures and without the right environment, stimulation, and care, they can have behavioral issues like biting and restlessness that make them unappealing for people who want them for their children,” Nicole advises. “A lack of proper care causing behavior issues lands a large number of hamsters in rescues and shelters.”

For these reasons, Nicole has a minimum age of 10 for children (with parent’s permission of course!) to adopt one of her hamsters. She encourages those thinking about a hamster to follow her Facebook page to see available hamsters and then message her for an adoption application.

Don’t want to adopt but want to help? Nicole says getting the word out about her rescue is a huge help and costs nothing. “Not many people know that a hamster rescue is even something that exists in the world,” she shares. “Most people will go to a pet store for a hamster without a second thought, which supports rodent mills and very poor living conditions for thousands of animals.” And of course, monetary donations help with the bedding, food and care of the rescued hamsters. All money donated to Zitch Hamster Rescue, including adoption fees, goes back into funding for the recuse. Nicole is in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Washington State.

To learn more, visit the Zitch Hamster Rescue Facebook page or follow them on Instagram.

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