BY JULIE GRAY
Tucked away in a suburban Bloomington home is an animal rescue center unlike most others. The Pipsqueakery is one of the nation’s few hamster rescue facilities. Shelters from Illinois to Florida send sick and homeless hamsters to the center, founded by Alex Hernly, 28, and her husband, Jason Minsterketter, 31. The Pipsqueakery also takes in guinea pigs, gerbils, rats, degus (rodents common to Chile), and chinchillas—as well as the occasional sugar glider (a small marsupial) and, recently, a vole named Norma.
At any one time, the couple may be caring for up to 100 animals in their well-maintained, light-filled, walk-out basement. A whiteboard maps out the location and special needs of each resident: some are diabetic, for example, and require insulin. The basement is also outfitted with a separate intensive care unit, complete with isolation stations and oxygen tanks. Low-tech equipment has its place, too. For example, the couple uses a human baby bouncer to calm fretful guinea pigs.
The pair had been fostering hamsters for several years before formally incorporating as a nonprofit organization in 2016. That was the same year they decided to get married in Las Vegas—in a pink Cadillac, a ceremony they live-streamed on The Pipsqueakery’s Facebook page. Both bride and groom wore hamster T-shirts, and the ring-bearer was a small hamster doll.
Why rescue hamsters? The couple, who met as English major undergrads at Indiana University, give several reasons. Says Minsterketter: “They’re perfect little introverts, and we are hard-core introverts.” Hernly, who is now a lawyer, offers another explanation. “In law school, I would do protective orders for people, and a year later, they would need another protective order,” she says. “You can’t save people; they have to save themselves. But hamsters? Put them in a cage and you can keep them happy for the rest of their lives.”
Minsterketter, who earned a nursing degree at Ivy Tech Community College–Bloomington and worked as a psychiatric nurse, now devotes all his time to The Pipsqueakery. His medical knowledge continues to prove useful, he says. The couple works closely with an Indianapolis exotics veterinarian who has used their data and experiences in her research.
Some of their animals have special needs and will spend their lives at The Pipsqueakery, but others are available for adoption. You can meet the hamsters by following The Pipsqueakery on Facebook or Instagram, or by visiting thepipsqueakery.org. To see video of The Pipsqueakery, visit magbloom.com/pipsqueakery.
Check out The Pipsqueakery’s furry residents in the exclusive video and photo gallery below. Photos by Rodney Margison, video by B. Tyler Margison.