by Diana Hockley
KRL enjoys featuring the many rat rescues around the country. This month we are chatting with Darlene Watts with For the Love of Rats in Walker, Louisiana. They not only rescue pet rats, but other small animals as well.
KRL: Rescuing animals is a labor of love and total dedication. What was the catalyst for the creation of the rescue and when did it come into being?
Darlene: My very first pet rat was Delilah. I’ve always loved animals. I started taking in orphaned and injured animals as young as 11 years old. I was never taught what to do with them, I just knew. I would nurse them back to health and release them back into the wild or if they were domestic animals I would continue to take care of them for as long as they lived. I’ve always felt that if I didn’t know something, I should research till I found out what I needed to know. But, I’m human and fell into that human trap of rumors and misconceptions.
I’ve always heard, “eww, rats are evil and disease ridden!” My son wanted to use his allowance to get a pet rat! I let him and he picked out this little black hooded girl rat and was going to leave the only other rat by herself. No, I just couldn’t do that to her. So, I took her as my pet even with that nagging fear of her being evil and disease ridden. She was special from that very first moment the employee handed her to me. She didn’t want to get in that cardboard box. So instead she climbed on my shoulder and snuggled against my neck and proceeded to give my cheek kisses. I heard this noise she made and at the time I didn’t know what it meant. Once I really started researching, I found out that she was doing something called “bruxing”.
Bruxing is when a pet rat is very content and happy, so they will start rubbing their teeth together that makes the sound that is referred to as bruxing. I fell head over heels in love with Delilah. She went everywhere with me, comforted me when I was sad, snuggled with me and made me happy! When she passed away, it was like my whole world was coming to an end. There isn’t a day or a minute that goes by that she isn’t in my thoughts. She is the reason I started my rescue. I want the whole world to know and learn what I did… that rats are amazing, social, compassionate and empathetic animals. They are not what the rest of the world thinks. They aren’t evil, disease ridden monsters. They feel regret, they mourn and get depressed when they lose a loved one. They don’t even have to get rabies shots, because they don’t get rabies. They groom as much or more than a cat, they empathize with you and they want to hang out with you. It is an honor and a blessing that she showed me what a ratreally is… a true, loyal and dedicated friend for life.
We have been operating since the 2011, but officially became a 501 c3 non-profit November of 2012.
KRL: What sort of setup do you have? Is it a private house, a shed or purpose-built complex?
Darlene: The main rescue is four rooms at the back of our house. We closed in our double carport and made them into rooms. We also have cages inside our house. The cages inside our house have either my personal pets, animals that are elderly, animals that need to receive medications, or animals that need to be observed.
KRL: How many can you accommodate and do you rescue other animals (e.g. hamsters orguinea pigs) as well?
Darlene: Our main rescue of course is pet rats. We also take in mice, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, hedgehogs, sugar gliders, prairie dogs and on occasion birds, small farm animals, hermit crabs and some wildlife. We can take in as many rats as we have cages/space for and the time to care for them. Right now there are 160 rats in the rescue. We can accommodate around 12 rabbits, 25 guinea pigs and a few of the other species mentioned.
KRL: Do the local authorities support you?
Darlene: Yes, our local animal control donates items to our rescue. They will call us if they get exotic animals surrendered to them.
KRL: How does the local community regard your activities and are they supportive inadoption and/or monetary terms?
Darlene: Most of the community express their gratitude for what we do. We get adopters right here from our local community and surrounding areas. We also get adopters from other states such as Mississippi and Texas. We do receive monetary donations from our loyal supporters.
KRL: Do you have many volunteers and how do you recruit them?
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?
Darlene: Yes, we do charge adoption fees when our animals are adopted. We do have a PayPal account, but no credit card facilities at this time.
KRL: What are the special challenges to rescuing rats?
Darlene: I would say our biggest challenge to rescuing rats is the vet expenses. Rats have so many health issues. Our vet bills are our largest expense. Another challenge is trying to help people overcome the false rumors that are spread about pet rats.
KRL: How many animals do you think you have saved so far?
Darlene: We are in the process of trying to figure out an actual number. If I had to take a guess… I would say we have saved around 500 rats, 200 guinea pigs, 75 rabbits and several of the other species.
KRL: That’s wonderful! Have you any fundraising or adoption events coming up and would you like to give the details?
Darlene: We have a Facebook auction every month. All the proceeds from the auctions go towards our vet bills. I also have a PDF of my cookbook out now! Cooking Up Mischief (watch for a review & giveaway of the cookbook next month in KRL) is a cookbook full of rat friendly gourmet recipes that are healthy occasional meals when used along side of their oxbow regal rat food and Native Earth Lab blocks. The recipes can also be adjusted for us by adding seasonings, meats and other flavorful items. We also sell accessories for the animals we adopt out. We are also in the process of opening a web store that will sell handmade animals toys, hammocks, treats, jewelry and other items!
KRL: Do local vet surgeries help in any way?
Darlene: Yes! Our vets are amazing. They give us discounts and they are always available to us, even after hours. They support what our rescue is trying to do.
KRL: Does the nearest ASPCA send rats to you and do they help if they can?
Darlene: We haven’t had any from the ASPCA, but they support our rescue. We have had our local Humane Society send us rats and other exotics. Several of our animal control facilities give us calls when they receive rats and other exotics as well.
KRL: Have you been involved in any hoarder or big rescues? If so can you tell us about it?
Darlene: Yes. We were involved in a hoarding rescue of rabbits, along with another rescue that saves rabbits. We took in six of the rabbits which came in with severe cases of ear mites, skin mites, lice, fleas and urine scald. They were neglected, so they needed to be on a good diet and receive vet care. We also rescued around 60 rats from a breeder that was threatening to just let them go in the woods. Several of them were pregnant and gave birth at the rescue. We had issues with them being un-socialized, but we worked with them and got the aggressive males neutered.
Our most recent rescue was last year at Thanksgiving. We were contacted by a group called “Beagle Freedom Project”. We drove all the way from Louisiana to Tennessee to rescue 35 retired female lab rats on Thanksgiving Day.
KRL: What are your most urgent needs right now and how can people help?
Darlene: Foster parents! Two of them have moved. Volunteers! Several have moved away. Donations to help pay vet bills and get supplies. We need someone that can do bookkeeping for the rescue. A ventilation system put into the rescue rooms. Right now we are using fans to blow it out a window, but that just isn’t what I want for the rescue. We paid someone to do it, but they took off with the money before completing the jobs. I think sharing what we need to as many people as possible is a good way to help. Maybe helping us find grants and possibly some businesses that would be willing to donate a larger sum of money to fix the problems with the ventilation and some other building that needs to be completed.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Darlene: We believe all animals deserve to be loved, properly cared for and safe. There needs to be
more educating the public that pets aren’t presents, spur of the moment purchases, disposable and possessions. They feel love, pain, fear, sadness, excitement and so much more! They deserve a home and a family that is willing to do research before getting a pet, that their pet is for its entire life, no matter what, and considers their pet as a member of their family, not as disposable object to toss out when they are bored with them.
KRL: What are your website URL and FB and Twitter details?
Darlene: ftlorrescue.weebly.com (We are trying to get an .org website, so we will direct people to that site when we have it set up) and Facebook:
www.facebook.com/ForTheLoveOfRatsRescue?ref=hl We are very active on our Facebook page.
Donation link: Our Paypal is: totallycharmed@cox[dot]net
KRL: The mission statement for your rescue?
Darlene:Our mission is to help abused, neglected and homeless pets find loving ‘furever’ homes, socialize them and give them proper veterinarian care. It is also very important to educate the public with accurate information on the proper care needed for exotic pets.