If you still need to get around to throwing out your Christmas tree, there are a few animals in Turlock that just might want it.
Jenn Dickey, owner of Cruzin’ Critters in Turlock, is collecting clean, real pine trees from around the Stanislaus County area for the animals at her sanctuary. While they may no longer be useful to humans, old trees can help the animals perform behaviors they would naturally do in the wild.
“We have about eight animals that really enjoy and play with and get a lot out of the Christmas trees,” Dickey said.
Todd the fox hides in and digs under the trees. Porcupine Quillie Nelson enjoys chewing on crunchy needles. Estrella the owl lands in hers after flying around her enclosure.
For the last 10 years, the animal education nonprofit has housed rescued exotic animals. Some may have been kept illegally as pets or found released into an area they should not have been in.
Since these animals are living in enclosures and not their natural habitat, enrichment such as Christmas trees can ensure they keep performing natural behaviors like scratching, chewing, rubbing and sniffing.
Kathi Dunham-Filson, whose family regularly volunteers for Dickey, loves the critters so much they came to her 53rd birthday last year. Her son began volunteering his sophomore year during COVID because he wants to be a zookeeper after graduating high school.
Dunham-Filson drove around last year picking up unsold trees from Ace Hardware and Save Mart. When she and her son took the trees to Dickey’s animals, it was clear how much they all loved them.
“They go nuts,” Dunham-Filson said. “It’s like getting a new toy at Christmas, almost.”
Cruzin’ Critters already has close to 10 Christmas trees this year. There were close to 15 trees last winter, and Dickey thinks she could use even more than that if people reach out.
The trees must be clean — meaning nothing like flocking, tinsel or pesticides on them— and not completely dead, but Dickey said they don’t have to be totally perfect or fresh to be used.
Dickey posted on Facebook asking people to donate trees. She said they can comment on the post or email firstname.lastname@example.org and she will arrange a time to pick them up in her truck if they’re local enough.
And when the trees are dead or past their usefulness, they get a third life when Dickey’s pigs get them to root around and break them down.
“We used them all,” Dickey said.