by Diana Hockley
Rattie Ratz is a Northern California rat rescue established in 1998. It has grown into one of the largest non-profit rescue organizations in the country dedicated exclusively to domestic pet RATS and other small animals. Rattie Ratz operates a limited access rescue and accepts needy rats from local overwhelmed shelters. They are an all-volunteer organization and currently have 10-15 regular volunteers and about 20 casual volunteers. Current board president Tahna Baldwin recently spoke about Rattie Ratz with KRL’s Australia writer Diana Hockley, who is also a rat lover.
Diana H: Please tell us a little about Rattie Ratz.
Tahna: Rattie Ratz is a rescue for homeless rodents; we are a registered non profit with a board of directors. I’ve been on the board of directors about two years and President for about a year now. Rattie Ratz was founded in 1998 by Diane Nesom.
Diana H: What does operating a rescue involve?
Tahna: It’s the same as running any other business: logistics, customer service, managing volunteers, veterinarians, politics, vendors, supplies and more. It’s time consuming and emotionally draining but it’s my passion.
Diana H: How is your rescue set up? Is it like a kennels and are you in the country?
Tahna: Our rescue does not have one central location. We have small foster and sanctuary homes set up throughout Northern California. Most volunteers are rat lovers who are willing to set up an extra cage or two in their homes. That’s the great thing about rats: you don’t have to have a lot of space to keep them happy.
Diana H: Where do your rescue rats come from?
Tahna: The majority, about 70% of our rescues, come from shelters. Most shelters don’t represent small animals very well; even if they do, space and knowledge is limited. Building good relationships with shelters is important to Rattie Ratz. I like to think of our organization as an extension of what they can’t always accomplish. The other 30% come from what we call private surrenders. This can range from people personally giving up their rats to good citizens who found a loose or abandoned rat.
Diana H: How do you cope emotionally and physically with the horrendous conditions in which you discover some ratties?
Tahna: This has to be the worst aspect of running a rescue. What keeps me going is the happy endings, not just for the rats, that alone would be worth it, but for the people who adopt them. These little souls change people’s lives, they make people happy, they keep them company, the feelings are endless. The adopters are so appreciative and so grateful for what we do. I love being a part of making that happen. I’m able to take a rat that has literally or figuratively been thrown in the garbage and match them up with an adopter who will love them.
Diana H: How do you feel about animal hoarders and what type of psychological assistance or penalties do you think would be helpful in discouraging them from re-offending?
Tahna: I think we need to start with getting rats the same legal respect that cats and dogs get. Until that happens, the crimes against them won’t be taken seriously. Most enforcement agencies categorize rats as vermin, not even exotic pets much less domestic pets. The rats have no rights and therefore people will continue to disrespect them.
Diana H: What is involved in finding homes for the rescued animals?
Tahna: Most of our adopters find us. We do events at pet supply stores and online networking to reach our audience. Many of our adopters come back to adopt from us time and time again because they trust us. The relationships between our volunteers and adopters can easily span over several years.
Diana H: Do you have animals other than rodents and how do they get along with the ratties?
Tahna: Yes, I have cats and dogs and everyone has always got along. The same familiar way a dog and cat will banter with each other, rats will banter with other animals. It’s not uncommon for the rat to have the upper hand. As long as your dog or cat does not have a strong prey drive everything will be fine. Just like any other animal-to-animal relationship, supervision and earning trust are key.
Diana H: How long have you been operating a rat rescue and how long do you think you will be doing it?
Tahna: Right now I’m just getting started, it’s hard to say. This rescue has so much potential, the future is exciting. I do know that I will never not be a volunteer; I love this organization too much to ever walk away completely.
Diana H: How do you vet (check people out) people who adopt your rescue rats?
Tahna: Adopters fill out an application, then it is reviewed with the adopter. Responsiveness to our recommendations is important. We don’t expect our adopters to know all the answers but we do expect them to be open to learning proper care for their rats. Once an adopter is approved we discuss which rats would be best for them. Then the adopter signs a contact.
Diana H: Have you had rats returned after adoption and if so, why?
Tahna: Yes we have. Rattie Ratz has a ‘Welcome Back Policy’. All adopters are required to return the rats they adopted from us back to us should they not be able to keep them for any reason. The most common reason is people loosing their housing or jobs, however some are more complicated. For example, I had one woman who fell in love with a trio of girls, adopted them, and then called me a week later saying that their energy level was over-whelming her. She returned the girls safely back to me and took home a single male who ended up being her perfect match.
Diana H: Do you have a “rat” vet available? If not, how much do have to rely on your own knowledge and experience.
Tahna: We handle the minor treatments ourselves like cuts, minor respiratory, lice, etc. For procedures we can’t do our selves, like tumor removals and neuters, we go to a vet. The discussion about treatment is usually a give and take of knowledge, as it should be for any animal owner and their vet.
Diana H: In Australia where I live, we do not have the diseases which are prevalent in the USA. What are those diseases and how bad – or contagious- are they?
Tahna: This is an involved question. I would have to know a lot more about what diseases Australia does and doesn’t have before I can make comparisons. Overall, I tell all of my rat adopters that rats are very prone to health problems and the major reason for that is careless breeding. In my opinion, health should come before any physically desirable trait. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be happening in the USA and thus we have a lot of disease prone rats.
Diana H: What quarantine measures do you adopt for your rescues and other animals in your household?
Tahna: After every public event, the entire group of rats is put into a two week quarantine period. If a rat gets sick, the quarantine starts over the day that rat shows no symptoms of being sick. This is difficult because sometimes a “sickness” or “bug” will jump from one rat to the next. They all won’t catch it at the same time and get better at the same time.
Diana H: How do you get the word out about things like adoption events?
Tahna: We use internet networking and fliers to advertise when and where we will be.
Diana H: What are your current needs to help you continue your rescue work?
Tahna: We are in desperate need of dedicated, reliable volunteers. We could also use grocery store gift cards so we can buy fresh veggies for the rats.
Diana H: How can people help and/or donate?
Tahna: You can donate through our website. We need help with every aspect of the organization. There is a task and job for everyone, simply contact us if you are interested.
Diana H: How did you end up involved with rats, and with Rattie Ratz?
Tahna: I got my first rats in the Spring of 2008 and started volunteering with Rattie Ratz by Fall of 2008. By Fall of 2009, I was president. I had never even held a rat before that year. After I got my first pair of rats I was in love. Shortly after one of them passed away, I found Rattie Ratz when looking to adopt.