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'Library' Lends Pets to Kids

By: Rebecca Jones

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Lissa Margetts is going out of business – and she couldn't be happier. Two-and-a-half years ago, the wildlife rehabilitator opened a "pet lending library" in the southwestern Colorado resort town of Telluride, a library that teaches kids how to take responsibility for owning a pet.

At the time, Margetts was trying to cope with a deluge of small domestic animals – guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, hedgehogs, turtles, tarantulas, snakes and iguanas – dropped off at the wildlife sanctuary she runs in Rocky Mountain, Ark. Then, she hit upon the notion of lending them out – a ploy that introduced children to the joys of pet ownership even as it provided safe homes for the animals.

Since then, Margetts has shared her ideas with people interested in setting up similar services in places as far away as Japan and England. "I'd love to see these things pop up all over," she says. "We'll always have kids who want to adopt pets, but unfortunately a lot of small animals end up in the garage because the child loses interest and no one wants to clean up their cage and the animals die. Wouldn't it be great for more people to find out ahead of time what owning that pet is like before they adopt it?"

Checking Out a Pet

To teach just that, the library charges kids $5 for a library card, which entitles children to check out the pet of their choice for a week. Both the kids and their parents sign a contract accepting full responsibility for the animal; if it is injured while in their care, they are responsible for all the veterinary costs. If it is lost or dies, they face a $100 replacement fee.

Margetts is strict in making sure the animals get fresh food and bedding daily, going so far as to insist that children sniff an ammonia-soaked cloth and asking them, "How would you like to sleep and eat in that?"

At the end of the week, the child returns the animal to the library. If the pet comes back well cared for, the child's library card is punched; after 20 punches, kids can adopt the animal of his or her choice – for free.

If, on the other hand, an animal seems to have been neglected, Margetts fines the child $10 and issues a warning. After a second warning, the child loses library privileges. In 2 1/2 years only one child ever received a warning.

Over the years, the library has slowly, but surely run out of borrowers. "I think that's probably because most of the kids who were interested in having pets eventually got them," says Margetts. "But I'm sure in a larger community it would be going gangbusters still. Around here, you can only give away so many of these guys."

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