by Lorie Lewis Ham
A lot of people don’t know how awesome rats are as pets–but Laura Austin, owner and operator of Seventh Heaven Rat Rescue in Indiana not only knows, but she does all she can to save those that need rescue and find them good homes. Find out how they got their start and how they help rats, in this Q and A with Laura.
KRL: Please tell our readers how your rat rescue got its start and why?
Laura: It was an instant decision made in a pet store in 1980. I was buying doggie treats and heard a screeching that went straight to my soul. A little black rat was cornered in a snake tank and was screaming in terror. A couple of men were watching and laughing. The next thing you know I have a terrified rat clamped on my hand and I was clutching him to my chest. I walked to the register with him still latched onto my finger, paid for him and only went back into that store to encourage people to adopt rats as pets. The little guy let go of my finger eventually on the ride home. I named him Blackjack.
KRL: Where are you located?
Laura: Elizabethtown Indiana
KRL: How did you come up with the rescue name?
Laura: One of my first adopters looked around and said, “Wow this place is seventh heaven for the ratties.”
KRL: How many rats do you typically have up for adoption?
Laura: We average 30 rats usually.
KRL: Do you do adoption events?
Laura: No I don’t. We are not a 501c organization so it is all out of pocket. With the hours I work to pay expenses, it makes events tough.
KRL: On average, how many rescues do you do per year?
Laura: Intakes seem to increase each year. Last year we took in over 400.
KRL: Is finding forever homes an issue?
Laura: Yes. There is still the stigma associated with rats. But forever homes are hard to find for all animals. You just have to be cautious and thorough.
KRL: How do you find homes? Do you use Petfinder or a website?
KRL: What is involved in the adoption process?
Laura: The adopter fills out the mini app on our webpage, references are called and if that checks out I try to get to know the person a little and we proceed from there.
KRL: Has your organization been involved in any large or unusual rescues?
Laura: We had three breeder closings and a hoarder/breeder last year all in very quick succession. Thankfully, many wonderful folks came forward to adopt from as far away as CA & PA. In addition, I was blessed in that three other rescues took some of them in a transfer. The total adoptables we had in house was 298 at one point. But the most unusual was an intake of 169 rats living in a converted chest type freezer in a garage.
KRL: Why did you feel a need for a rat rescue?
Laura: I love the underdog. And the relegation of a thinking, loving creature to something only good as a “feeder” goes against my beliefs.
KRL: Do you ever rescue any other pocket pets?
Laura: Oh yes. Guinea pigs, chins, sugar gliders, hamsters, gerbils and just recently ferrets . . . you name it. But we try to get those into rescues who specialize in them.
KRL: Are you doing anything in particular to help change people’s perceptions of rats as pets?
Laura: I work as much as I can with pet store staff on my weekly shopping trips. We have to change the way rats are viewed and sometimes that store employee makes all the difference. I also allow rats to visit schools if contacted by teachers. That is a lot of fun. I print off pages to color and rat fact sheets.
KRL: Are there any special challenges when working with rats?
Laura: Finding the time to work with each and every one for socialization and enrichment.
KRL: Has your organization been affected by the current economy?
Laura: Yes. It is hard to stretch a dollar these days. We have had several surrenders due to families losing their homes and being unable to find apartments that are rat friendly. Hamsters they will accept but not rats.
KRL: What are your future goals?
Laura: I would love to have an actual adoption facility. That is my dream.
KRL: What are your current needs? How can our readers help?
Laura: We always need donations of course. It would be great if readers could share with other people that rats are just as loving as their other pets. And just as deserving of love, compassion and care.
KRL: Anything else you would like to add or share with our readers?
Laura: Rats like other pocket pets only have the world we give them. And they are very social creatures who need companionship of their own kind and bond with their people. If you choose to adopt a pair, please make sure you will have enough time everyday to spend with them. Make sure you can get them out to sit with you on the couch or a safe rattie play space. They live in a cage but you live in their hearts.
Check out more rat stories & articles in KRL’s rodent ramblings section.