Dani Dickerson came to Anne Arundel County with memories of a very special opossum from South Carolina. Betty, the opossum, came into the care of the former SC Cares a Coastal Animal Rescue and Sanctuary, and under Dickerson’s care, became the ambassador for the whole sanctuary.
Dickerson,28, had graduated out of Coastal Carolina University with a degree in biology. She got a job with SC Cares, and worked her way up to help run the whole organization. It was Betty though, that gave her a special passion for her work.
“They are very special,” she said of Betty’s species. “A lot of people are scared of opossums. They’re actually really good to have a round. They eat ticks and venomous snakes. They’re actually a really cool animal.”
She and her fiance started Little Zoo Sanctuary out of their home in Crofton about a year ago. They had moved to be closer to their in-laws, and Dickerson got a job at an animal shelter helping dogs and cats. But she had took her passion for exotics and the memory of Betty with her.
“I just kind of missed that aspect of working with exotic animals,” she explained. “We’re looking for land and we’re hoping to stick to Anne Arundel County. But we’re open to other options that come along.”
Right now Dickerson is working on building the sanctuary by attracting volunteers who might help foster the animals they care for. They have already helped 23 animals since they got started.
One happened to be another opossum—a juvenile. And there were also baby squirrels that required around-the-clock bottle feeding. And there are chinchillas, an iguana, rabbits...and one very lucky cat.
Dickerson doesn’t consider cats and dogs exotic, but this particular cat required special attention, she said. The feline was failing to thrive at its previous shelter and had been there for quite some time. So Little Zoo Sanctuary took her in.
Perhaps it is her compassion as well as her passion that drives Dickerson to give unwanted creatures a new chance at life.
“It’s the animals, and the satisfaction of finding good homes for them, “ she said. “A lot of times we have animals that come through our doors that come from neglect or abusive situations. To give them a safe place to come where they can feel loved and taken care of on a day-to-day basis—that’s enough by itself. But then finding good homes for them—it’s just amazing.”
Little Zoo Sanctuary has another mission too—education. The sanctuary’s goal includes educating the public on the care of exotic creatures. Rares species often have health requirements that are not commonly understood.
“People don’t mean to not take care of their animals,” Dickerson said. “But they can cause harm unintentionally.”
The head of Little Zoo Sanctuary is continuing to educate herself too. She currently has a permit for wildlife rehabilitation, and is moving toward attaining her full state certification as a wildlife rehabilitator. She is working under the mentorship of a master wildlife rehabilitator now and expects to receive full certification in about one year.
What one little opossum named Betty started in South Carolina years ago, is now benefiting her furred and feathered friends in Anne Arundel County. Dickerson invites invites others that may be interested in helping to reach out to her.
Perhaps she will not be the only one in Anne Arundel to find they have a passion for opossums. And for helping the other abandoned, abused, neglected, and forlorn creatures that come through the doors of the Little Zoo Sanctuary.
They might find the animals can give back as much to their caretakers as the caretakers give to them, as Dickerson has.
I love watching them come out of their shells, and their personalities grow,” she said. “Seeing them bloom is very rewarding.”