Embracing “Different”, Man with Autism Cares for Abandoned and Mistreated Exotic Pets
As a 10-year-old, Alex Randall was recovering from severe trauma, and the autistic child begged his mother for a new pet, something unusual. At the pet store, turning away from the area where the baby animals were kept, Alex gravitated towards an older ferret that had been returned by a customer. Taking the unwanted pet home, Alex named him Ferret Ferri, and with Ferri, Alex was introduced to a new world of caring for unadopted, unusual pets.
Finding that caring for animals proved to be healing for Alex, his mother, Beth Randall, founded the Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary in 2004. Since then, Alex, now 27-years-old, and his mother have cared for thousands of abused, abandoned and otherwise homeless small exotic pets at their German Valley, Illinois farm. Animals ranging from guinea pigs, rabbits, tortoises and turtles, hedgehogs, lizards and even sugar gliders find their way to the sanctuary from all over the United States, as it is the only licensed pet sanctuary of its kind in the country.
Dedicated to the well-being of unwanted animals, Alex is proving that all animals, even the so-called different ones, are worthy of being cared for, and is today’s Daily Point of Light award honoree. Points of Light spoke to Alex and his mother, Beth, to learn more about his volunteerism with Critter Camp.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Alex: I’m inspired to help out the critters. I take care of them before I even eat breakfast. I’ve formed an attachment to some of the animals at the sanctuary, we have some pets from when we first started.
Beth: He likes to help take care of things that need him.
Describe your role with Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary:
Alex: The sanctuary is on a farm where we live. I feed the animals, do their water, sometimes I feed Pearl, the pot-bellied pig. Sometimes I take the animals out when it’s nice. I lift and carry heavy supplies as I’m doing chores around the farm. I clean the barn.
Beth: We take in animals from the entire country, from as far away as New York, Texas, Florida. These animals are all pets, nothing is wild or caught – they’re the old, sick, aggressive – the unadoptables. We decided early on there was no place for the unusual pets other than cats and dogs to go, they’d often be euthanized, or someone would let them go, or they’d be mistreated. We felt a kinship with the “different” or “outcasts” in society. Having experienced what Alex did with his disability, we decided that different is fine, and that we would take care of the different ones.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
Alex: I’ve learned responsibility. I’ve also learned about so many animal species, we’ve taken care of over 30 different species. Lastly, I’ve learned how to help people and animals.
Beth: I’m just amazed by his resilience and his ability to adapt to what needs to be done. Considering his diagnosis, this service should be extremely hard for him, but he’s just risen to every occasion. He sees things that need to be done and he just does them. He has this tremendous empathy for the animals and he wants them to be cared for and happy. I’m so proud of him that he thinks of the animals’ needs before his own, and because he wants to, not because he has to.
I know this might be hard, but which animal is your favorite at the sanctuary?
Alex: All of them (laughs).
Beth: He has no favorites, he honestly doesn’t. Out of the animals, Rambo the Sulcata Tortoise loves him a lot. She always goes out to him, probably because he’s the one who always takes her out when we have nice weather.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
Beth: Every one of the animals that comes in has a story. Some of them are starving to death, some of them have been abused. Some have illnesses that haven’t been treated. Each one, especially those with extra needs that we make a difference for, impacts our lives and makes us feel like we’re doing the right thing.
Tell me about one of your more unusual pets.
Beth: We cared for an alligator for one week, he was 3.5 feet long, and a man from a neighboring town won the gator in a card game. The animal, named Ray, was living in the man’s living room in a giant tank, eating shrimp. His wife was terrified that the alligator would hurt her baby, and wanted it out of the house, so the alligator came to us. I went to pick Ray up at the house, the man tossed him in a plastic tub into my backseat. When I asked if the tub would hold the gator, he said, ‘well you’ll be the first to know if it doesn’t hold him!’ We found an alligator relocator who took Ray back to Florida.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Alex: How to deal with challenges.
Beth: Our story is about helping someone or something, and how that also helps you personally get through a challenge. When Alex started taking care of the animals, it was a tremendous way to help him heal. By caring for these pets at the sanctuary, he was able to recover, grow and feel strong again. That’s a lesson we believe many people can empathize with.
How can readers help?
Please check our website for more information about how you can help: http://crittercamp.org. We also post regularly to our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CritterCamp/, and you can find updates from Alex here: https://www.facebook.com/alex.randall.7543.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Alex Randall? Click here for local volunteer opportunities.