by Diana Hockley
KRL enjoys featuring the many rat rescues around the country. This month we are chatting with Teresa still, the Rat Coordinator at Small Angels Rescue in Frederick, Maryland. 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 Small Angels and when did it come into being?
Small Angels: Small Angels Rescue, Inc. was founded in October 2003 after the five founding members recognized that there were few available options for the small animals (guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, mice and rats) that came into the shelter system. Small animals were rarely afforded the same level of medical care or advertisement for adoption that other animals in the shelters received. They recognized that there were already a number of rescue organizations in place in the community for cats, dogs, rabbits, and ferrets, but there was a need for rescue services for other small animals, so the five founding members started a rescue dedicated to small animals, specifically guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, mice, and rats, and the rescue was awarded 501c3 status the following year.
KRL: What sort of set-up do you have? Is it a private house, a shed, or a purpose-built complex?
Small Angels: Small Angels Rescue has no physical brick-and-mortar facility; rather we house our rescue animals in a network of foster homes in the community where they are given all the care they need and socialization if necessary. All rescue animals remain in their foster home until they are adopted or until they pass away.
KRL: How many can you accommodate, and do you rescue other animals, as well in an emergency?
Small Angels: Small Angels Rescue works with guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, mice and rats. Each species has its own animal coordinator team, i.e. there is a guinea pig coordinator who oversees the guinea pig program and manages team leaders who supervise the guinea pig foster homes. There is a rat coordinator who oversees the rat program, and manages the rat foster homes, etc.
Each animal team may have slightly different protocols for managing their foster homes/foster space and there is no set number for capacity for each type of animal. The number of animals each animal team can accommodate depends on the number of foster homes they have at that time, and the available foster space within those homes. The number of foster homes is fluid and often fluctuates, but some teams have as few as only one to three foster homes, while other teams may have as many as 10 foster homes. On average, the guinea pig, mouse, and rat programs may have between 15-30 animals in each of those programs, while the hamster and gerbil programs typically have fewer than 10 animals at any given time.
KRL: Are you a registered charity for rescue or tax exemption purposes?
Small Angels: Yes, Small Angels Rescue is a registered 501c3 non-profit entity in the State of Maryland.
KRL: How does the local community regard your activities, and are they supportive in adoption and/or monetary terms?
Small Angels: Small Angels Rescue is well regarded by our local community, and we have worked hard over the years to be a positive presence in the community. Our rescue is well known to our area animal shelters and humane societies, as well as local pet supply retailers who often invite us to hold adoption events or information tables at their stores.
Our rescue actively participates in a wide range of community events, and uses many of these events as opportunities to spread the word about adoption, and to educate the public on the proper care of small animals and the dangers of the animal mill industry. Small Angels Rescue regularly receives donations from the public, adoption fees from all adopters; and occasionally we receive grants from supportive individuals/organizations.
KRL: Do you have many volunteers and how do you recruit them?
Small Angels: We currently have 65 active volunteers that assist in all aspects of the rescue, from board members to animal assistants and everything in between. We recruit new volunteers by posting ads on Volunteer Match, Idealist, Volunteer Fairfax, Facebook and our website.
KRL: How did you personally get involved?
Small Angels: I learned of Small Angels Rescue while glancing through a local newspaper in which Small Angels had placed an ad. I had been thinking for some time of doing volunteer work with animals, and since I’d owned and loved pet rats for many years, this seemed like the perfect opportunity. In January 2007 I contacted Small Angels Rescue and was approved to become a rat foster mom. Although I’d had many pet rats over the years, it was a completely new experience for me to take these rescued little creatures into my home and help them to thrive and rebound from difficult circumstances, and ultimately send them off with a smile to their new forever homes.
I continued as a rat foster home for several more years, and was asked in 2009 to take over as the Rat Coordinator for the rescue, thereby overseeing the rescue’s rat program. I have continued to serve as one of the rescue’s Rat Coordinators since that time, and am blessed to have helped many, many rats over the years.
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?
Small Angels: Yes, there is an adoption fee for all adoptions. Animals that we have spayed or neutered bring a higher adoption fee to help offset our surgery costs. In addition to adoption fees, we also ask for monetary donations from persons who surrender their animals to our rescue. We do have a PayPal account (treasurer@smallangelsrescue[dot]org) in which to receive donations. We are not yet able to accept credit card payments but we are looking into setting up a mobile credit card service through Square or a similar merchant.
KRL: What are the special challenges to rescuing rats?
Small Angels: Rats are highly intelligent animals and require a great deal of time and attention from their caregivers. Rats require daily interaction, handling and stimulation as well as frequent play time outside of their habitat. These basic needs place a considerable responsibility on foster homes and a demand on their time, so we are very careful and thoughtful when setting up new rat foster homes in order to ensure they are fully aware of the responsibilities and are dedicated to caring for whatever needs the animals may have. Over the years we have also come to realize that quite a few of our rat admissions have involved very large hoarding or over-crowding situations with hundreds of rats, and we don’t see these dramatic hoarding situations quite as frequently with other species of small animals. This phenomenon necessitates that we network and pool our resources with other nearby rat rescues to better handle some of the larger numbers of rats pulled from hoarders or large “shelter dumps.”
KRL: How many animals do you think you have saved so far?
Small Angels: We estimate that we’ve helped over 5,000 animals since the rescue’s inception in 2003. Approximately 1,600 of those have been rats.
KRL: Have you any fundraising or adoption events coming up, and would you like to give the details?
Small Angels: This past spring we held a very successful fundraiser “Concert for Critters” in which we had a raffle auction on tables of wonderful prizes, and local bands donated their performances to draw crowds to the event. The fundraiser raised a generous amount of money which went directly into the rescue’s care of the animals, and we are planning to hold another “Concert for Critters” fundraiser next spring. We currently hold adoption events once per month on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Petco at 1275 West Patrick Street, Frederick, MD 21702. Our events for the remainder of the year will be on September 5, October 3, November 7, and December 5.
KRL: Do local vet surgeries help in any way?
Small Angels: Yes, we have several local veterinarians who are highly knowledgeable about small animals and about treating their most common health problems. These vets work with us to have the animals seen and treated at affordable prices, and these vets are highly skilled at performing spay/neuter surgery and tumor removal.
KRL: Does the nearest ASPCA send rats to you and do they help if they can?
Small Angels: No, we do not routinely receive rats from the ASPCA or any other animal advocacy group. In years past we did agree to take several rescued lab rats from the Humane League of Philadelphia, and last year we received a considerable monetary donation from the Humane Society of Fairfax County (Virginia) in response to a large group of rats we rescued from a local hoarder.
KRL: Have you been involved in any hoarder or big rescues? If so can you tell us about it?
Small Angels: Yes, as mentioned above we have assisted over the years with several hoarder cases and the rescue of large numbers of rats. I’ve listed four notable rescues below:
1. In November 2009, we rescued 32 rats from a local man who had been keeping them in a small filthy birdcage and was allowing the boys and girls to cohabitate. The rats had been living in deplorable conditions and they were literally wet to the touch from having to live in their own urine. The following day, we admitted an additional 13 rats from the shelter where the same man had dumped more rats. Not surprisingly, some of the female rats were pregnant and soon three litters totalling 24 pups were born in the rescue, bringing the total from this one rescue to 69 rats! While the total number of rats was overwhelming, we were grateful that the pups were born in the rescue where they received excellent care, and all of the 69 rats eventually found loving homes.
2. May 2011 brought the huge rescue of rats from Hagerstown, MD. A Good Samaritan came upon a number of rats that had been dumped outside, including several newborns, and scooped up as many as she could and took them to the local Washington County shelter. We were contacted by the shelter and asked to help. We were shocked to see numerous rats huddled in piles and sick with respiratory infections. One of the females had already given birth to nine pups in the shelter and another female was in labor at that moment. Numerous other girls were visibly pregnant. We decided to take all 13 females and 14 pups into the rescue, and would return for the boys when space permitted. The female in labor continued to give birth in my car as I headed for home. We returned later for the 12 boys and one more girl, who, regrettably, had been mis-sexed and was living among the boys. Within two weeks, six additional litters had been born, and finally the last girl who had been mis-sexed at the shelter gave birth. In total, there were 10 litters for a total of 58 pups!
What started as a rescue of 28 rats at the shelter ended with a total of 84 rats! All of the sick rats were given antibiotics and almost all of the rats eventually went to loving homes. We shudder to think of what would’ve become of all of those innocent rats and the unborn litters if they had been left to fend for themselves outside.
3. In June 2013, we agreed to help another rat/mouse rescue in Virginia Beach with a local hoarding case. An infamous hoarder in that area had a houseful of rats that needed rescue, so our Virginia Beach contact successfully pulled numerous young rats from the hoarder’s home and we admitted a total of 37 rats. It was no surprise that a couple of the females were pregnant and gave birth to a total of 25 pups, bringing the Virginia Beach rescue to a total of 62 rats!
4. Our most recent hoarder case was in August 2014. The hoarder, located in Millersville, MD, actually reached out to us for help after she realized her numbers were out of control. We arrived at her home and were shocked at the conditions. She was keeping over 100 rats in a couple of cramped filthy guinea pig cages. The odor was horrendous and the rats were filthy and many were injured. They were so tightly packed into the cages that you could not see the floor of the cage and the rats were literally standing on top of each other.
The hoarder had a history of dumping rats at the local shelter and we knew something needed to be done. Small Angels partnered with Dakota’s Dream Animal Rescue in Winchester, VA, and we decided to take all of the rats the woman was willing to surrender. Small Angels agreed to take all of the females while Dakota’s Dream would take all of the males. Over the course of four trips to the hoarder’s home, we pulled 52 males, 52 females, and 11 nursing pups. Cases like this are exhausting and taxing to our rescue’s limited resources, but restoring the rats to health and watching them blossom and go to loving homes made it all worth the effort.
KRL: What are your most urgent needs right now and how can people help?
Small Angels: Small Angels Rescue is entirely financially dependent on adoption fees, donations from the public, the occasional grant, fundraisers, and the sale of cages and supplies, so we are always in need of financial support. We would welcome any and all monetary donations, which we use to purchase food and bedding, various supplies, and, most importantly, much needed veterinary care. We have a donate button on our website and we also have a PayPal account at treasurer@smallangelsrescue[dot]org.
We are also in urgent need of additional volunteers, specifically a Human Resources Coordinator and a Hamster Coordinator. Any interested persons can contact us at volunteer@smallangelsrescue[dot]org.
KRL: What are your website URL and FB and Twitter details?
Small Angels: Website: www.smallangelsrescue.org
Our address and phone are: P.O. Box 336, Monrovia, MD 21770. We have no phone.
Donation link: www.smallangelsrescue.org/ways-to-help-2/donate-2
KRL: The mission statement for your rescue?
Small Angels: The mission of Small Angels Rescue Inc. is to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice and rats. These animals are worthy of respectful and compassionate treatment. We advocate and facilitate responsible animal care and companionship.