East Tennessee Give A Heart Rat Rescue

Apr 2, 2016 | 2016 Articles, Animal Rescue Adventures, Diana Hockley, Rodent Ramblings

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. We especially wanted to feature one this week in honor of World Rat Day on April 4! This week we are chatting with Brittaney Smallwood of East Tennessee Give A Heart Rat Rescue.

KRL: Rescuing animals is a labor of love and total dedication.What was the catalyst for the creation of the East Tennessee Rescue and when did it come into being?


ETGAHRR: I have rescued rats since I was 9 years old. Then it was from feeder bins…. Well, I continued to rescue and keep them as my personal pets up until 3 years ago. I came across an ad on Craigslist for free rats and had assumed it was a few, so I decided to go. When I got there, in the middle of the backwoods country house sat a massive 9 ft. by 5 ft. cage-like thing. It had wood shelves about a foot apart from each other. It had so many rats in it you could smell it a mile away. I’m guessing 300 or more. As I was looking, a little masked baby boy literally jumps out onto me and hides in my hair! He stayed with me while I called people I knew to help.

Little by little we got them all out and separated by gender. A lot were so far gone they had to be euthanized; others were pregnant, some were very skittish. The list goes on, and in the end we had 120 rats. I opened my doors, gave it a name, and then it kept growing and became official as we grew and got our name out. east tenn rats

That little male, who I named Bandit, became my heart rat and the official face of the rescue. Sadly he passed last year on October 20, 2014, and if it weren’t for Bandit, I may have never opened the rescue. All 120 rats found forever homes! ETGAHRR is now an official rescue in East Tennessee.

The name was hard. I went thru multiple names, but I wanted to keep the name meaningful and close to home. So I chose this one. East Tennessee (Location) Give A Heart (love all creatures) Rat Rescue (what we specialize in). Officially, we opened our doors in 2012.

KRL: What sort of set-up do you have? Is it a private house, a shed, or a purpose-built complex?

ETGAHRR: This is in a private house with multiple foster locations. The home has three rooms dedicated to it, and one quarantine room with a separate ventilation system.

KRL: How many can you accommodate? Do you rescue other animals, e.g. hamsters or guinea pigs, as well?

east tenn rats
ETGAHRR: Depending on how many rats we have, we can house at one time 60 to 80 rats, 20 mice, 2 rabbits and 4 guinea pigs. We do try not to have that many at one time, but sometimes we do have, depending on the situation with large scale rescues or the amount of surrenders.

KRL: Are you a registered charity for rescue or tax exemption purposes?

ETGAHRR: Not yet, but working on it. Despite all of the adoptions and fundraisers, it is difficult for us to pay the amount needed to become 501(c)(3). We are working hard to stay within our budget, especially when we have large-scale rescues. Between vet bills and resources, we come out even. We certainly would like to incorporate and become tax-exempt, but when there are mouths to feed and vet bills to pay, those costs come before paperwork. If it weren’t for our unwillingness to give up, we would not be where we are today. Our rescue may be small, but we are growing daily.

KRL: Do the local authorities support you?

ETGAHRR: Yes, we work closely with the local animal shelters, taking in small caged animals if we have the room.east tenn rats

KRL: How does the local community regard your activities, and are they supportive in adoption and/or monetary terms?

ETGAHRR: We have actually grown a lot in the last year. The community is learning about us, and we have more adoptions, but at the same time we have more calls about surrenders coming in.

KRL: Do you have many volunteers and how do you recruit them?

ETGAHRR: We have about five constant volunteers, and then we have some come by and help clean cages or volunteer to help with events. Some were close friends, others came to us thru social media from our rescue page and website.

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?

ETGAHRR: We do charge a small fee per animal, and we have a Paypal account: easttennesseegiveaheartratrescue@yahoo[dot]com.

KRL: What are the special challenges to rescuing rats?

ETGAHRR: The biggest challenge is do we have the room, and if not, can we find a volunteer to foster? We have gone as far as 15 hours away to help rescue. Another big challenge is, sometimes we don’t know what kind of conditions the animals are in. We always have a vet on stand by when doing rescues.east tenn rats

KRL: How many animals do you think you have saved so far?

ETGAHRR: Since 2012 – 583 rats among other animals. In the last year – 162 rats, 6 guinea pigs, 7 mice, 2 rabbits, 4 birds, 5 hamsters, 13 gerbils, 3 dogs, and 5 cats

KRL: Have you any fundraising or adoption events coming up and would you like to give the details?

ETGAHRR: We are finishing an auction now and plan to have a different fundraiser each month to help pay for the costs of running the rescue, including vet bills and food. We are always in need of donations, so we sometimes have donation drives.

KRL: Do local vet surgeries help in any way?

ETGAHRR: Yes, we get a bulk price cut on our vet bills and the medicines we need.

KRL: What are your most urgent needs right now, and how can people help?

ETGAHRR: Funds and supplies, we take Paypal donations or anyone can contact me personally to donate supplies.

KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?

ETGAHRR: You do not have to be rich to help. All shelters and rescue organizations need help. If you cannot adopt, then foster. If you can’t foster, then please consider donating, whether it be time, money, or supplies. All animals need our love whether it be big or small!east tenn rats

KRL: Where would you like to see ETGAHRR in five years?

ETGAHRR: I honestly have a split opinion about this question. On one part I’d like to see a situation where we no longer need to rescue, as everyone is in safe, loving homes, but that’s a dream. On the other half, I would like to see us expanded and branched out in multiple areas and states. I’d love for more people to know about us and instead of buying, they would choose to adopt.

KRL: Because you are a newer rescue, what particular challenges have you faced that a more established rescue may not face?

ETGAHRR: Funds and finances play a big part in one of the things we face. We also have gotten bashed before for having the rescue and not allowing breeders to adopt unaltered rats. Connections are another thing we face each and everyday. We try to make our own connections. Sometimes its manpower, but all of these struggles make us better. east tenn rats

KRL: How do you educate people about rats?

ETGAHRR: We go in detail about rats, how they are not gross. We educated people on rats needs, health, life span, etc. We give them fun facts about them. We also host and attend vendor and adoption events. Part of our goal as a rescue is to teach community awareness. We love to share with people the truths about rats, debunk the myths, and encourage them to experience the friendship and love a rat can give.

KRL: What are your website URL, FB, and Twitter details?

ETGAHRR: easttnratrescue.weebly.com, www.facebook.com/easttngiveaheartratrescue.

Our address and phone:
Johnson City, Tn 37604
(423) 302-7424
Donation link:
PayPal account is easttennesseegiveaheartratrescue@yahoo[dot]com

KRL: What is the mission statement for your rescue?

ETGAHRR: ‘East Tennessee Give a Heart Rat Rescue’ is a group made up of volunteers, working together to improve the quality of life for small animals through fostering, adopting, and educating.

Check out more rat rescue profiles & other pet rat related articles and stories in our Rodent Ramblings section and other animal rescue and pet related articles in our Pet Section.

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Diana Hockley is an Australian mystery author who lives in a southeast Queensland country town. She is the devoted slave of five ratties & usually finds an excuse to mention them in her writing, including her recent novel, The Naked Room. Since retiring from running a traveling mouse circus for 10 years, she is now the mouse judge for the Queensland Rat & Mouse Club shows. To learn more, check out her website.


  1. I’ve never thought that a “rat” pet was something I’d enjoy, but after reading the interview, I have a new appreciation of creatures great and definitely small. Thank you.

    • Great for you, Kathleen! Now, TELL OTHERS! Spread the word! Rats are great, not gross!

  2. Hello, ETGAHRR! I’m glad I “met you” before reading this article. Wow! This interview was an eye-opener. Until now, I didn’t know so much about you, save for donating through your auctions. Glad to get to know you more/better!


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