by ViVien Hoang
ViVien Hoang is a volunteer with Rattie Ratz Rescue in the bay area of California. Each month KRL will be featuring at least one animal rescue adventure story, and every other month there will be one from Rattie Ratz.
The thing with working in animal rescues – you never know where your next case will come from. Typically, you pull animals from shelters or extract them from “a friend of a friend’s” house. Some people have heart-wrenching stories about why they are giving up their pets; others can be barely bothered to answer emails when you try to arrange a pick up. You usually know some kind of history when you meet the curious and shy faces for the first time: pet store rat, classroom project, snake’s rejected meal. But in March 2014, the tireless volunteers at Rattie Ratz (based in the Bay Area, California) were faced with an altogether different scenario.
A concerned hiker emailed the rescue organization that a group of friendly domestic rats had been dumped in Concord, CA on a walking trail. The only information we had was a vague location (“under the first big tree you see on the left”) and an even vaguer description of the rats (“…a bunch of rats – all different sizes, shapes and colors…”).
Tahna Myers, the Bay Area Lead for the organization, immediately jumped into action. She posted to the Rattie Ratz’s message board and within 24 hours, the cavalry had arrived. A small team went to the trail to assess the situation, and that scouting mission turned into a mini-rescue operation! Carol, who became the de facto leader, described the initial foray: “We found [the rats] without too much difficulty. One was very tame and walked right up to me. I simply picked him up. Tahna caught another one by hand and I caught three more with stealth and a butterfly net. The two we caught by hand looked relieved to be in a cage with good food and fresh water. They hunkered right down and relaxed.” So the good news was that these were domestic rats and were amenable to human intervention.
But the bad news? “Unfortunately the population [was] exploding…Of the two females we caught one was pregnant and the other likely to be so. Many of the rats had bitten or partially severed tails. They had lice and seemed unusually hungry. Two had clearly visible infections.” The rats also had lice, parasites and some had eye damage. This was a dire situation and there was no time to spare!
This story is as much a story about the ingenuity and perseverance of humans as it is about the rats. Carol and another volunteer, Krista, went back to the trail the next day but no luck. But the next day, Carol modified how she was rigging her traps and caught nine rats, bringing the total to 14 rats with at least two at large.
On the final day, five volunteers showed up and this time, there was a plan. The rat colony had been living in stack of sticks and logs built along the creek and with five volunteers, the new plan was to pull the sticks apart and ambush the rats as they were flushed out. Unfortunately, the remaining rats proved to be elusive! “We flushed a [rat] and pursued it across the stream three times and then up an embankment and into heavy cover on the other side of the creek. That little rattie was fast and all we got was a bit of excitement. No rat. After considering all the possibilities, we decided we were no match for the remaining rats. We had to put back the erosion barrier, so it was a lot of work.”
The day was not lost however, as the volunteers were able to do some impromptu outreach with the onlookers. “Curious people stopped and asked questions as we worked and stalked the feral ratties. Some thought we were nuts, some understood, some thought we were terribly wrong to trap them and take them away. Fortunately most people understood after a brief conversation.” Being a rat owner, you quickly learn that branding and marketing is part of the gig! Rats are incredibly affectionate, social, and misunderstood!
This rescue adventure should also serve as a gentle reminder that pets don’t fare well when released into the wild. After the initial rescue, Carol has visited the site several more times; however the remaining rats have disappeared. Seemingly self-sufficient animals can struggle when suddenly thrust into a new environment; these animals can also irrevocably disrupt the local ecosystem. If you, or somebody you know, is no longer able to care for your pets, please contact your local shelter or rescue group.
Anyone who has volunteered with an animal rescue group will tell you that the task is challenging but ultimately rewarding. Rescue groups often are able to handle the situations that city or government animal agencies are ill-equipped to manage. Because of the volunteers’ relentless efforts over the course of nearly a week, 14 rats and 20 babies are now safe, and sheltered. Rattie Ratz volunteers have generously opened up their wallets, hearts and homes to fund veterinarian visits and socialize the rescues, so they are now available for adoption!
For more information on Rattie Ratz, rat adoption events and volunteering opportunities, check out their website: www.rattieratz.com. Rattie Ratz is also a California Registered Not-for-Profit and is always accepting donations to help offset the costs of rescuing!
Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section & watch for more stories from Rattie Ratz every other month. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to Rattie Ratz.