by Diana Hockley
KRL enjoys featuring the many rat rescues around the country because we know how wonderful pet rats are and want to help spread the word about those who help them. This month we are chatting with Kaia Browning, founder of Central Texas Rat Rescue.
KRL: Rescuing animals is a labor of love and total dedication. What was the catalyst for the creation of the Central Texas Rat Rescue?
CTRR: Well, that goes back a ways! My first pet rat came to me by chance, back in 2002. At my undergraduate university, I had a friend who worked with the laboratory rats in the psychology research lab on campus. At the conclusion of their studies, the rats were taken to the local animal shelter to be euthanized. At the end of one such study, my friend happened to mention that a rat had been accidentally left behind. This pulled at my heartstrings, thinking of the poor little guy all alone, having narrowly missed such a grim fate, and thus I immediately offered to give him a home. I did not know much about rats, but I figured he’d be a cute little furry fish, right? Little did I know what an amazing pet and friend he would become!
Of course, then I had to adopt some buddies for him, and drove several hours to a ferret rescue that happened to have some rats up for adoption. At this time, I was working in rabbit rescue (rabbits were my first pets), but word got out that I had and loved rats, and thus rats in need began to filter my way. I ended up with a total of six, and for awhile I adopted out others through the rabbit rescue. However, I began to see a huge need for someone to look out for rats, specifically, and I knew I wanted to do more for them. So I decided to switch my focus to solely rat rescue and Huron Valley Rat Rescue was officially born.
Seven years and many hundreds of rats later, my husband’s career brought us to Austin, Texas. Closing HVRR and starting from scratch in a new state was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but it was never an option not to try. I officially opened CTRR in October 2012.
KRL: What sort of set-up do you have – is it a private house or a purpose-built complex?
CTRR: I run the rescue out of my private home. Rats are housed in their own room in Midwest Ferret Nation cages and various Martin’s cages. They also come out to play in the living room, either hanging out on the couch, in the kiddie pool play area, or in the Martin’s playpen. I do have the help of a few wonderful foster homes who house incoming rats for a few weeks at a time for quarantine purposes, to avoid potential disease transmission. There are, unfortunately, no vaccines for rats, so preventive quarantine in an off-site location is vital for rescues.
KRL: Do you only take in rats or have you been known to rescue other animals? And how many rats can you accommodate?
CTRR: Only domestic rats. I used to occasionally take in mice back in Michigan, but sadly it is very difficult to re-home mice, and unfortunately, they smell – a lot! I do currently have a resident rescued hamster, but rats alone keep me plenty busy! I have fewer resources here than in Michigan, so I do take in fewer rats than previously. How many I can accommodate depends on a variety of factors, including available funds and the health status and adoptability of the rats. Generally, I prefer no more than about 30-40 rats in the rescue at a time to ensure they receive top-notch care and attention. Undoubtedly I can house more, but quality of care comes before quantity. I feel a rescue should set an example for the public, not ever be a place someone rescues animals from.
KRL: Is your rescue a registered charity for rescue or tax exemption purposes?
CTRR: Unfortunately, not at this time. I hope to apply for 501c3 status this year. It is a very daunting and expensive process, but I do feel it will open up some doors. I am looking for someone to assist with this process, as finding the time [and] energy is difficult!
KRL: Do the local authorities support you?
CTRR: CTRR does not receive any public or private funding from any such institutions. Most of the local (and a few not so local) animal shelters, animal controls, and humane societies are happy to work with the rescue, and contact CTRR for assistance when they have rats. Rats from shelters and similar places are my first priority. Those places have enough on their plates and I’m a shelter girl at heart.
KRL: How does the local community regard your activities, and is the community supportive in adoption and/or monetary terms?
CTRR: Austin is a very rescue-friendly city in general, but unfortunately rats are still viewed negatively by most of the population, and many find the concept of rat rescue/rat adoption laughable at best. The myths, misconceptions, and unflattering stereotypes about pet rats are sadly something CTRR often battles. However, within the rat community itself and among those with more open minds, I’d say that CTRR has forged an excellent reputation and has been received quite positively. Encouraging adoption and spreading awareness is always an ongoing process, but I do have some wonderful regular supporters and repeat adopters.
KRL: Do you receive a discount or help from the local vets?
CTRR: I work with several veterinary clinics with whom I have cultivated and established close relationships, and they work hard to keep costs down for CTRR. Their services and support are invaluable – I would not be able to do rescue without them. Thank you, North Austin Animal Hospital, Westgate Pet & Bird Hospital, and Lakeline Animal Care!
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 Paypal and credit card facilities?
CTRR: The adoption fee is $50 per rat (all our rats are spayed or neutered before adoption). The fee does not remotely cover our costs (for example, spays cost $75 each). I do utilize Paypal, but currently do not have the means to take credit card data.
KRL: What is your website URL, and Facebook and Twitter details?
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
CTRR: There are some misconceptions about rescues and rescue rats that I’d like to touch on. Many people think that rescues only have “problem” rats – old, mean, or sick rats – and thus steer clear of adopting. The truth is that rats of all ages and types end up in rescue, including many babies. While some people do surrender rats for behavioral or medical reasons, the vast majority are given up due to no fault of their own.
The most common reasons rats are surrendered are:
-Kids lost interest or aren’t caring for [them], or kids got a new pet
-Landlord won’t allow, or moving to where landlord won’t allow, or parents won’t allow/etc.
-Don’t have time for the rat(s) any more
-Bought a pregnant or mis-sexed rat from the pet store who had babies, or had an accidental litter
In addition, a good rescue would never adopt out an animal without full disclosure of any known health or behavior issues, and never to an unprepared, unsuspecting adopter. Reputable rescues do everything in their power to provide the best match for each individual or family. One of the perks in choosing a rescue to adopt from is that the rescue should know all of their rats well, be able to tell you about their personalities and characteristics, and be able to suggest the best potential matches.
I also want to add how people often balk at filling out an adoption application and at my adoption fee, not realizing how beneficial spaying and neutering are, and how pricy it can be elsewhere. So, one of the other challenges faced is spreading education about why the rescue takes such measures, about how rat rescuers consider rats as valuable as dogs and cats, about the enormous benefits of spaying or neutering rats, and the benefits of adopting: the rats have been checked by a vet, they have already been treated for parasites, they are already spayed or neutered at a fraction of the usual cost, and they have been evaluated for health and temperament.