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.
Pet rat rescue volunteers often get asked what we rescue our rats from. You could give a literal response—overly full shelters, irresponsible owners, changes in a person’s life situation, abandonment—but more recently, I’ve taken a more philosophical view: we save them from unlucky circumstances.
A common (incorrect) assumption about rescued animals is that something is wrong with them. After all, who would dump their pet if nothing was wrong with the animal? Many people assume animals coming from breeders are not “defective,” but ask any shelter or rescue, and they’ll tell you that their facilities are full of purebred animals that came from breeders. More often than not, sweet and loving rats end up with Rattie Ratz because of an unlucky break that has nothing to do with them. A new spouse is allergic. A child’s attention span wanes. There is a family emergency. A landlord enacts a no-pets policy. A college student is forbidden to bring a pet home at the end of the semester.
The luckier ones end up at Rattie Ratz directly, where we can foster them in safe and loving homes. Many more end up in local animal shelters; these rats may be adopted from the shelter or a Rattie Ratz volunteer may pull them and take them home to foster. The unluckiest ones are the ones that are abandoned in houses and apartment buildings when the owners vacate, dumped in parks or alleyways, or left with the trash for curbside pick up—and because of the kindness of strangers, Rattie Ratz volunteers will learn about their plight and take them in.
Rattie Ratz is about giving pet rats a second chance. In December, a volunteer notified Rattie Ratz that a local shelter was hours away from euthanizing a mother rat, her sister, and her 10 newborn babies. Very quickly, the organization scrambled into action. Our president authorized the pull from the shelter, another volunteer picked them up, and then my husband and I took them in. We weren’t given any additional background information about why they landed in the shelter in the first place. My guess is that they were purchased from a pet store that did not separate the males from the females, leaving one of the females pregnant. When the family brought her home, and she gave birth, they realized they weren’t equipped to handle 12 rats all at once!
For the first two days, the little family hid inside their covered igloo house. I occasionally heard small eepings and peepings from the nursing babies. The “auntie” rat occasionally stuck her head out to grab food from the bowl, but otherwise it was quiet. But baby rats grow fast: eyes soon opened and the cage became alive with the boundless energy of 10 wiggly, squeaking pups.
Baby rats aren’t afraid of anything: new situations, new places, new things, and most importantly, new humans. Generally, at this young and impressionable age, humans haven’t given them any reason to mistrust us. It became a daily ritual to take them out to play, to weigh them to make sure they were growing and to give their poor exhausted mother a break! Everything was an adventure—there was no pant leg too tall to climb, no shirt that couldn’t be crawled down, and no box they couldn’t escape from. The babies soon learned that humans meant attention, Cheerios, and playtime. There was nothing more satisfying than coming home to tiny fuzzy faces eagerly clambering all over the bars of the cage.
The pressure was on us as well to make sure we raised social and friendly rats that were used to being handled by people. We taught them not to snatch food, bite through the bars and we’ve been teaching them to come when called!
They all have different personalities, and giving them names which reflected their personalities was a challenge. Neville is completely fearless; his brother Coal is shy but affectionate. Moxie and Pepper always want out of the cage. Blitzen will jump off any surface if you don’t stop her. Bessie nursed the longest (and then ended up being one of the bigger girls!). You’re more likely to see Bailey hopping around the cage; her “twin” sister Scotch loves snoozing in big rat piles. Xena will play wrestle with the best of them and Pip is the smallest of the girls.
Having raised these babies, I cannot help but marvel how their luck has changed. They went from being hours away from death through no fault of their own, to being spoiled rotten with fistfuls of treats and a palatial cage. And hopefully, someday, a loving and compassionate person will be so lucky to adopt them!
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.