This article is from the WSSF 2010 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Frank Green, MA
In the early sixties, I was privileged to know the Grand Old Lady of Mice—at least here in New England—Helen Perley of White Animal Farm in Pine Point, Scarborough, Maine. She authored a couple of slim books—Fancy Mice, and I just learned of another (courtesy of Karen Robbins) Enjoy Your Gerbils Rats and Mice.
My memories of Helen go back to 1960 or so, and “Grand” is likely not an apt adjective. Helen was a little woman; typical old New England in much of her approach to life, deviating primarily in her broad interest in animals. Slight of build, unassuming in attitude, and certainly not grand in life style, she lived in a very small cottage in Pine Point, only a street or two from Maine’s coast, a short way north of Old Orchard Beach.
Her modest home was situated on a small tree-shaded lab on a dead-end road. A fairly large back yard enclosed a couple of small out- buildings and a miscellaneous jumble of cages. An “aviary” just outside her rodent building contained a couple of black vultures (rather constrained by its dimensions), the first time I was there. A pair of golden pheasants graced a small pen in the yard, along with cages holding a ground hog, a fox, rabbits, and skunks (both our native striped skunk and the southern spotted skunk which I had never seen before). Back then skunks were not uncommon pets, and they appeared in a variety of patterns as well as chocolate and albino forms.
The Rodent Building contained mice, rats, hamsters, and gerbils, all in wooden boxes—mice generally in boxes about 6 x 6 x 12 with a wire mesh top, hamsters generally in boxes about twice as wide, other boxes of various sizes housed kangaroo rats and mice, a small delicate N.E. jumping mouse, and various other wild mice and voles which people collected for her.
More exotic livestock were in different places and cages, including chipmunks, thirteen-lined ground squirrels, occasional snakes, turtles, tortoises, etc.
Cages for the rodents were generally half-full or more with shavings, husks of grain, and other waste, etc. Water bottles were non-existent. Helen would carry in a bucket of stale bread and bakery products soaked in milk, and a dollop of this on each cage top provided needed moisture.
Amenities, including lighting, were minimal. An old wood stove provided necessary heat in winter. Things needing more warmth were simply kept nearer the stove. Negotiating the crowded aisles demanded a little care.
Helen was an early breeder of mice—she had somewhere around thirty-five to forty line-bred strains of domestic mice in various colors and patterns including Hairless mice, woolly mice, even green mice for St. Patrick’s Day. She also had Satin mice and Waltzing mice. I believe that she occasionally bought some stock from Jackson Laboratories. She also had Egyptian Spiny mice, the first I ever heard of, as well as Hooded rats, which were also new to me. Her hamsters were all Goldens or golden and white; none of the other species were available back then (at least in this part of the country).
White Animal Farm ran a mail order business for many years, both wholesale and retail, selling to individuals, shops, and schools. It was a source for much that was uncommon, unusual, and undeniably interesting for many of us who sought out the out-of-the-ordinary.
Helen continued her business until her death. For some time afterward her daughter carried on, eventually only supplying mice to the pet shops. The carefully line-bred mice were not continued, and after a bit the business closed. I’ve lost touch with Helen’s daughter and know nothing of her whereabouts. It is unfortunate that no one took over the business and perpetuated the work Helen did over the years.
Ed. Note: You can read more at:
Helen Perley had the White Animal Farm in Maine–established in 1934, died in 1994 at age 90.