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.
One of the joys of fostering is being able to take in a family of baby rats. It doesn’t happen too often, but it’s not unusual for Rattie Ratz to get a call from a Bay Area shelter or family, who suddenly have an “oopsy” litter on their hands. These accidental litters are often the result of mistakenly buying a male and female rat from a pet store; rat litters sizes can vary from a pair of babies to up to two dozen!
I think every foster parent who sees their baby rats for the first time has the same reaction. It’s a hushed “Eee!” in response to the blind, suckling pups and then an immediate worry. Are they getting enough milk? Is mom being attentive? Are they growing? Why is mom stepping all over her babies? Can they breathe alright under that pile of their siblings?
How are these eeping, pink, naked bodies ever going to become rambunctious and independent rats? It almost seems impossible, but then the impossible begins to occur before your very eyes. Baby rats can grow and be weaned from their mom as early as four to five weeks and in that month, there is so much growing to do and so much to learn and explore!
I was incredibly fortunate last year to have had the opportunity to raise a litter of ten babies, that were rescued along with their mom and their aunt from a shelter. I’m sure any mom will tell you, that raising a baby is hard work. Now imagine trying to raise ten at the same time! This little family was going to need our help and we took our duties seriously. But of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun!
When the babies came to us, they had all their fur and markings, but their eyes were barely open. We wanted to make sure they were growing and putting on weight, so every night, we would weigh each one on a small kitchen scale, using an old Chinese takeout container as a basket. In addition to checking them for overall health, these nightly weigh-ins helped the babies become accustomed to human handling.
We also delighted in watching the little personalities develop and saw how they became braver and more aware of their surroundings. Some were incredibly fearless; others waited until their brothers and sisters had the first go. The first few nights, the babies would be weighed and dropped back in the cage with minimal fuss. But after a week, the jiggle of the cage door meant a wriggly, chaotic stampede of fuzzy faced babies to the door. Weigh-ins suddenly became a lot more difficult as the babies had discovered that the open door meant freedom and freedom meant fun! It probably took about five minutes to weigh them and about 35 minutes to chase them all down as they scampered across the bathroom floor, and away from our grasping, freedom-depriving hands. Tack on another hour of taking photographs and videos to capture the memories, and these weigh-ins were becoming quite the lavish affairs!
The babies learned wrestling moves from each other and how to steal food. They climbed the bars of the cage, dug up the bedding, made a mess and got bigger and stronger every day. We introduced them to their first solid foods, cardboard boxes that could be ripped up and hammocks of all variety. We were their first real exposure to the human world and we wanted to make it a welcoming one!
Then they were five weeks old and the two boys from the litter were separated from their sisters. We began to get inquiries from potential adoption homes. We took them to adoption fairs and in the blink of an eye, they all found homes. It’s never hard to adopt out rats that are friendly and sociable; it’s even easier when they’re adorable babies with ears and feet still too big for their bodies. In less than two months, we saw them go from dependent little bubs, to playful and gregarious pet rats. It’s a reminder that the love and care we give our animal companions don’t go unnoticed by them. We are each stewards from the human world to the animal one – let’s all cherish that!
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.