by Diana Hockley
KRL believes in supporting animal rescue in its many forms in any way that we can. This week we are interviewing Jaimie Christine Stamper-Dignan about her local rat rescue, Whisker Tickled, located in Parlier, CA.
KRL: Rescuing animals is a labor of love and total dedication. What was the catalyst for the creation of the Whisker Tickled Rescue, and when did it come into being?
Jamie: Since I was young, I have been involved in animal rescue and rehab; it almost seemed to come as second nature. I grew up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it seems like my family and I always had some orphaned or injured creature that needed our help. I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life after watching my father foster a hummingbird. He was in construction, and unfortunately, it disrupted a lot of wild life, but my dad always kept his eye out.
I am a hobby rat breeder and over the years we have been contacted quite often about rescuing rats. I can’t say no to any creature that I can help. One call in particular made me officially add Rat Rescue to our rattery organization; we took in seventy-six rats in a twenty-four hour period. I actually began recruiting fosters and volunteers, and I was absolutely shocked with the support we received! And our rescue was born!
Since then we have taken in hundreds of rats and found them homes as far as Montana. We have one very special rescue with us right now: Ares, whose owner is in Mississippi. From here he will be going to Las Vegas and then Flying Mississippi. He should be with his owner by the time this is published. Do to unforeseen circumstances his owner had to move suddenly, leaving his beloved pet rat with an ex-girlfriend. Then as soon as he left, she tried to take him to the Central California SPCA. A friend of his contacted us and asked if we could help in any way. Long story short, we formed a train of folks from here to Las Vegas to transport and care for him until he could be shipped out from Las Vegas with his cage and his rat accessories. It was amazing being a part of such an amazing journey. We started a “gofundme page,” and within a few days, we had raised enough money to get Ares home. I have even overseen the rescue of animals out of state.
KRL: How did you first get involved with animal rescue?
Jamie: I think I have always been involved in rescue and rehab, since I was a small child. I would feed baby birds that fell if I couldn’t get them back to their nest. As I got older, I was taking care of abandoned wildlife like squirrels and raccoons. At sixteen, I volunteered to clean kennels at the little veterinary office in my home town where I began to learn about the medical side of animal husbandry. In high school, I took agricultural classes; in college, I took forestry management, studied Veterinary Technology, and spent a little more time in the veterinary field. I volunteered at the CCSPCA, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, as well as several other animal advocacy organizations. I have applied everything I have learned from all of these experiences to running a successful rescue.
KRL: What sort of set-up do you have? Is it a private house, a shed, or a purpose-built complex?
Jamie: We are a home-based operation. Our team consists of my husband Jake, my two daughters Sarah (oldest) and Ashley (youngest), and myself. We all work together and each rat becomes a member of our family until they are ready to go to their new family. However we are planning on moving to a larger piece of property, and we plan to expand our rescue in November. (this interview was conducted in October of 2017 and they have now relocated to a larger location in Parlier).
KRL: How many can you accommodate? Do you rescue other animals (e.g. hamsters or guinea pigs) as well, in an emergency perhaps?
Jamie: We have space for around thirty rescues comfortably, although we have had as many as 112 rescues in our care at one time. Thankfully, we do have fosters that help take some of the load. We are in fact a multi-species rescue. We specialize in exotic and hard to care for species, such as reptiles and birds, as well as rodents, other small animals, and some livestock.
KRL: Are you a registered charity for rescue or tax exemption purposes?
Jamie: No, but we are in the process, so we can work with local authorities.
KRL: Do the local authorities support you?
Jamie: Yes, we are an official Pet Placement Organization with the Central California SPCA, and as soon as I have my 501c3, I will also plan on working with Fresno Humane. I plan on reaching out to the other counties in the Central Valley as well.
KRL: How does the local community regard your activities, and are they supportive in adoption and/or monetary terms?
Jamie: We receive donations quite frequently, and there are a few sponsors that I can call if I need anything. These are people that have adopted from us, and we have actually become quite close. There are a few local pet stores that also donate used equipment and offer us discounts when we come in. It has been amazing! We also have fund-raising items for sale such as picture packages, toys, hammocks, and our feed mix that raise money to keep us going.
KRL: Do you have many volunteers, and how do you recruit them?
Jamie: I do have a few of volunteers. They come in and spend time socializing and assist with cleaning chores when I am swamped and need an extra hand. I don’t really recruit; they just volunteer after visiting our page/site.
KRL: Rescues depend on donations from the public – do you charge a small fee for your animals when they are adopted? And do you have Pay Pal and credit card facilities?
Jamie: We do ask for an adoption fee as a donation when adopting our rescues. My family and I design and craft environmental enrichment products that we sell to raise funds as well. When an animal is surrendered, we ask that the animals housing, food, toys, and bedding come with the animal. It cuts down on stress to the animal, and it makes it easier to find them a home when they come with everything they need already. This also helps us keep our costs down since we don’t always have to go and buy new supplies. We do have a Pay Pal posted on our page as well if people would like to make a donation.
KRL: What are the special challenges to rescuing rats?
Jamie: The obvious issues, of course. We get a lot of aggressive rats that do not make good companions, or the lonely scared rat who misses his old home and family. These animals need a lot of patients and time. We spend a lot of time socializing, conditioning, and exposing these rescues to new situations and temperament testing each rat before they are placed. We want our animals to be completely comfortable with their new owners and different environments.
We also do a background check on the adopters to ensure that the new home is a good match for our rescued rats. It can be difficult keeping proper quarantine areas for our rescue in a home setting, away from our rat colony. I have a wonderful family that loves caring for animals as much as I do, so we have divided our home into common areas for our rats and family and quarantine in my bedroom. It’s easy to keep the kids out and with a bathroom between quarantine and our common area, to wash hands, things actually go smoothly.
KRL: How many animals do you think you have saved so far?
Jamie: Honestly I don’t know. Just in the last year, we have taken in and placed over 300 animals (multi-species) I would say.
KRL: That’s wonderful! Have you any fund-raising or adoption events coming up and would you like to give the details?
Jamie: We don’t have any official events, but a few local pet stores have offered to let me set up a display table in their stores. We are hoping to be set up to do that in January. We also make and sell small animal hammocks to raise funds as well.
KRL: Do local vet surgeries help in any way?
Jamie: Not really, some clients elect to neuter males to introduce them into their own colonies.
KRL: Does the nearest ASPCA send rats to you, and do they help if they can?
Jamie: The rescue coordinator from the Central California SPCA has contacted me, and we are now an official Pet Placement Organization with the CCSPCA.
KRL: Have you been involved in any hoarder or big rescues? If so, can you tell us about it?
Jamie: YES! Several times. Three of our biggest surrenders were breeders that have gone out of business and could no longer afford to feed their animals. Luckily, I called our volunteers and sponsors; we accepted emergency foster applications and somehow we managed to find them all homes. I still don’t know how it went so smoothly.
KRL: What are your most urgent needs right now, and how can people help?
Jamie: We can always use donations such as bedding, feed, fleece, and litter, even old clothing we can use to make hammocks and toys. Used cages can also be used for rescues who come in. I try to place rescues with a cage (their home), and things that are familiar to them so they so they don’t go through the stress again.
We are always looking for more experienced rat enthusiasts who would be willing to foster. Contact us, which would be great. Sometimes we get very busy, and we need families who would be willing to care for friendly well-tempered animals while we care for the animals who are not ready to be placed yet. We do background checks and find adopters, though we have a problem keeping fosters. The fosterers usually fall in love with the foster rat and end up keeping them, limiting their space for new fosters.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?:
Jamie: I would like to thank you for your time and for reaching out to us. This is a wonderful way to help let people know that we are here to help! Other rat owners who have questions or need help also contact me quite frequently, and I am happy to share information and give them a hand. Even if I can’t help, I will find resources that can. There are so many amazing organizations that help animals.
We are a multi species rescue as well. We work with rodents, birds, reptiles, and livestock.
KRL: What are your website URL, and Facebook and Twitter details?
We offer our address once an appointment has been made because we do work out of our home. It’s a matter of safety for my family.
Donation link: www.paypal.me/WhiskerTickled
The mission statement for your rescue:
Whisker Tickled tirelessly strives to provide compassionate care and temporary shelter to surrendered and abandoned animals.
You can check out more animal rescue & pet related articles in our Pet Perspective section.