by Diana Hockley
KRL wants to spread the word about what awesome pets rats are, and also to help those who are rescuing them, so we interview rat rescues across the country. This week we are interviewing the owner of Rizzo Rat Rescue in Southern California, Lillian Farrow. In honor of World Rat Day on April 4 we actually have 3 rat related articles in this issue!
KRL: Rescuing animals is a labor of love and total dedication. What was the catalyst for the creation of the Rizzo Rat Rescue and when did it come into being?
Lillian: I don’t know if anyone else does this, but sometimes I would go onto the Los Angeles Animal Shelter adoption page and just scroll through and make myself sad about all the pets I can’t adopt. One day I was doing this and I saw a rat named Rizzo. When I opened his page I saw that he had been at the shelter for over two months. He was their only rat so he had been completely alone the whole time. Knowing shelters, they’re understaffed, underfunded, and just don’t have time to play with all their animals, I looked at my spare rat cage and I thought, why the heck not? So I adopted him. I fell [head] over heels for him, but then Rizzo needed a cage mate, so I adopted Niles. After Niles I realized that nothing else made me happy the way taking care of rats did. So I went for it. This started in November 2016 so we’ve only been in action for over four months now. It’s just me and some help from my boyfriend right now, but I’m hoping to expand in the future.
KRL: What sort of set-up do you have? Is it a private house, a shed or a purpose-built complex?
Lillian: We are an “out-of-house rescue” so I have all the rats in the same room I live in. I am lucky to be living in a large home at the moment that can accommodate all these cages.
KRL: How many can you accommodate and do you rescue other animals (e.g., hamsters or guinea pigs) as well?
Lillian: We specialize exclusively in rats as they are my passion and what I have most experience caring for. But of course we opened our home to a few more pets, one of which was a Russian dwarf hamster we named Huxley. He came with three rats and a boa constrictor. The boa was taken in by a partner rescue.
The amount we can accommodate isn’t exactly a fixed number. It depends on if I have rats that need to live by themselves, therefore taking up cage space that could normally house more rats, or if I have multiple sick rats and cannot financially support more. Right now we have 35 rats.
KRL: Are you a registered charity for rescue or tax exemption purposes?
Lillian: We are! We just received confirmation of our 501(c)(3) status as a charitable nonprofit.
KRL: Do the local authorities support you?
Lillian: Los Angeles Animal Services runs the New Hope program, which waives adoption fees on animals who are set to be euthanized soon. It also reduces the cost of rat adoption from $15 to about $3 on regular adoptions. It is a highly effective program offered to registered rescues.
KRL: How does the local community regard your activities and are they supportive in adoption and/or monetary terms?
Lillian: Most of the time when I tell people I rescue rats they’re more than a little surprised. Even in Los Angeles where you see people with exotic pets pretty frequently a lot of people still don’t know that domesticated rats exist! But the people I meet through the rescue, whether they’re surrendering their pets or adopting from us, have always been very generous in donating goods and cash.
We are going to be looking into doing adoption days with the local Petco, and doing educational outreach at the library now that we’re non-profit certified. So hopefully we’ll garner more support through these means.
We’ve also just had our first opportunity to offer our rats to local film makers. Our boy Tibbers got to play the part of a convict’s pet. It was very fun to see how quickly he and his rat co-workers charmed the film crew!
KRL: Do you have many volunteers and how do you recruit them?
Lillian: We are such a small rescue that we don’t need volunteers. On more than one occasion though I have had people ask to volunteer with us, but I don’t think we’re what they have in mind when they ask that.
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?
Lillian: We charge $15 per rat for adoption. Though this is honestly less to fund the rescue and more of a precaution that unworthy adopters don’t come to us. We do have a Paypal for donations.
KRL: What are the special challenges to rescuing rats?
Lillian: I would say the biggest challenge with rescuing rats is that more than once we have been given rats who are gravely ill and their owners didn’t recognize it. Then we have to act fast to save them. Rats are tough, but they’re so small that a sniffle can develop into pneumonia in the span of a day. You have to be extremely alert to their behavior because they try their hardest to hide their sickness.
The other most difficult part is getting male rats to integrate into groups. Rats are social animals and cannot be kept alone, yet we keep on receiving single rat surrenders. This is fine if it is a female, since they’re a lot more amicable to being introduced to a group, but trying to introduce adult male rats takes significant time and patience, and even then they can get very mean very fast. If they were babies it wouldn’t be an issue, but when they get older they’re territorial.
KRL: How many animals do you think you have saved so far?
Lillian: In the short time we’ve been open I would guess 50 rats so far. Most of them are still living with us, but some have been adopted and others passed on.
KRL: Do local vet surgeries help in any way?
Lillian: We have one vet who we rely on, and honestly without this, rescue may not be possible. Sharp Pet Hospital, run by Dr. Sharp, offers extremely reasonable rates on visits and frequently waives our fees. He’s an absolute godsend when vets otherwise charge exorbitant rates for small mammal care and are frequently less educated on rat health care than I am.
KRL: Have you been involved in any hoarder or big rescues? If so can you tell us about it?
Lillian: The biggest rescue so far was a father and his entire litter. A young woman was sold a pair of rats and was told they were the same sex. They were not. Next thing you know she has litter of babies. Incidents like this are extremely common as people don’t realize how early in life young rats become fertile.
KRL: What are your most urgent needs right now and how can people help? Have you any fund raising events coming up in the near future?
Lillian: The two biggest expenditures for us definitely vet care and food. We have several chronically ill rats who are on permanent medication along with the occasional bouts of infection in the rest of the population.
To help with this we ask people to donate to us through Paypal or our YouCaring campaign. Because we’re so new we don’t have any events planned yet. We were waiting to be cleared for our nonprofit status. We do, however, accept goods and have been given old rat toys and cages. New goods we receive are usually [from] people who buy things for the rats via our Amazon Wishlist.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Lillian: I want to encourage any readers you have to support your local rescues. Domestic animals have been quite literally bred to depend on us, yet so many of them end up in harm’s way. It is our collective responsibility to protect them. Our pets only have us.
KRL: What are your website URL and FB and Twitter details?
We are located in North Hollywood, CA.
However the best way to reach the rescue is through our email.
KRL: The mission statement for your rescue?
Lillian: An LA-based rescue dedicated to keeping rats out of shelters and harm’s way. Rizzo Rat Rescue was founded with the intention to dispel the harmful myths about rats and their treatment as disposable animals. All rats deserve to be loved and cared for. We will take in any rat that needs a home regardless of health or age.