Noe Valley Voice May 2008

Want to Adopt a Rabbit, a Mouse, or a Chicken?

By Olivia Boler

Usually, the Noe Valley Farmers' Market prohibits fur where there's food--meaning no dogs or other pets are allowed near the vendors--but that's about to change, sort of. Starting May 31, San Francisco's animal welfare agency, Animal Care and Control (ACC), will show off its adoptable "small companion animals" once a month at the Farmers' Market on 24th Street.

What exactly is a small companion animal? According to Deb Campbell, outreach coordinator at ACC, the category includes any small animal that it's legal to own in San Francisco, including rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, lizards, snakes, parakeets, and chickens.

"Some of these animals are strays, some are surrendered by their owners, and some have been lost," says Campbell. "People lose chickens just like they lose dogs."

Many residents don't know that they can find these animals up for adoption at Animal Care and Control. In fact, Paula Benton, a Noe Valley resident who helped found the Farmers' Market and remains on its board, was in the dark herself until she started volunteering at the shelter back in January.

"I was surprised they have a department devoted to these small animals," says Benton. "When I started talking to friends about these animals, they had the same reaction."

Benton, who often can be seen walking on 24th Street with her own ACC-adopted friend Dudley the Beagle, asked her fellow board members at the Farmers' Market if they would allow ACC to bring a few of its more exotic creatures for monthly visits. The board welcomed the idea. (Some are so eager, laughs Benton, they have already started building chicken-coop "condos" in their back yards.)

According to Benton, the weekly Saturday market, which is held in the Noe Valley Ministry's parking lot between Sanchez and Vicksburg streets, gets approximately 2,000 visitors each week. From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., families, singletons, and couples browse the vendors' wares of fresh breads, seasonal fruits, honey, meat, and vegetables, while bopping along to whatever band or musician is performing that day.

Campbell of ACC is excited about the prospect of introducing the small companion animals to Noe Valley with this pilot program.

"We've gone into pet supply stores like Pet Food Express with adoptable animals, but [Noe Valley] is a new audience, so to speak," Campbell says. "We're looking forward to letting the community know that there are all these amazing animals for adoption just down the road."

But what about the "no fur" policy? Not to worry. The animals will be in crates set up at the side of the market, in a small horseshoe-shaped seating area, also owned by the Ministry. "I think they call it the 'mini-park,'" says Benton.

If you see a furry--or scaly or feathered--critter that you can't live without, you'll have to wait a bit to adopt it. The actual adoption will take place at Animal Care and Control, located at 1200 15th Street at Harrison Street. (The shelter is open daily from noon to 6 p.m., and on Wednesdays until 7 p.m.)

In addition to finding homes for the animals, ACC wants to educate the public about them, so there will be some initial counseling before the adoption is complete. An ACC service representative will ask the potential adopter if he or she can really have a pet: Is it the right time? Do they have the space? Once that has been determined, the paperwork filled out, and the fees paid (starting at $15), the animal can go to its new home. Also, all animals up for adoption have been spayed or neutered, although some, like female guinea pigs, apparently have anatomies that are simply too complex for that, according to Campbell.

For the initial run of the adoption fair, Benton has roped in her friend and fellow Noe Valley resident Jo Cummins, who in turn is recruiting middle-school-age volunteers to help out, including her own daughter Lindsey. "She thinks it'll be really fun, and she's always been interested in animals," Cummins says, citing Lindsey's summer camp experiences at Slide Ranch in West Marin, where she has been able to get up close to animals like chickens and goats. (Lindsey is also the proud guardian of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Alvin.) But what really interests Cummins is the idea that kids her daughter's age can get involved in giving back to their communities.

"Our children have their activities they're involved in like soccer and such, but when Lindsey entered middle school at Presidio Hill School, I started to think about how she could start thinking beyond herself."

Cummins is curious to see how the ACC event will go. "There's such a great spirit in Noe Valley in general," she says. "But especially at the Farmers' Market."

Animal Care and Control and its buddies will be at the mini-park next to the Noe Valley Farmers' Market on Saturday, May 31, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information on ACC and to see animals available there for adoption, go to