by ViVien Hoang
ViVien Hoang is a volunteer with Rattie Ratz Rescue in the bay area of California. Each month KRL will be featuring at least one animal rescue adventure story, and every other month there will be one from Rattie Ratz.
You always meet the skeptics. They’re the ones who wrinkle their noses when you say you rescue rats. “Rats!” they exclaim, “Vermin to be exterminated. I hate their wormy tails.”
My husband Andrew never responded quite so vehemently, but since he grew up on a small ranch, rats were never welcome critters. When we were dating, he always kept a polite distance from the cage and would only offer them treats if I insisted; he understood that rats came with the territory. I understood that you can’t convince somebody to love these mischievous rodents. This was definitely going to be a case of show, not tell!
After we got married, we were rat-less for a few years. Between moving across the country, starting a new job, and living in a new place, we couldn’t settle down long enough to contemplate adding to our little family. But then the job stabilized. We bought furniture for our apartment and we learned to navigate the streets of San Francisco without checking a map every other block. Life was happy–except for the little rat-sized hole in my life.
“I miss having rats,” I admitted to Andrew, more wistfully than anything. I never expected anything to come of it but Andrew surprised me a few weeks later at Christmas! He got our landlord’s permission to get rats. Never mind diamonds and dogs–rats are a girl’s best friend!
We decided the best thing for us to do would be to volunteer with Rattie Ratz, a Bay Area rat rescue group. Our reasoning was two-fold: we could try fostering on a short-term basis to see if Andrew was allergic to the rats, and by fostering and socializing the rescues we could help the greatest number of animals. It was a win for us, a win for Rattie Ratz and most importantly, a win for the rats. The wonderful volunteers helped us get set up as a foster home and soon we had two little whiskered faces peering at us.
Truth be told, I had fully expected the rats to be my complete responsibility, but without being asked Andrew was soon helping me with the weekly cage cleaning. He started constructing little rodent hidey-homes and then bemoaning his efforts when they gnawed on them! I caught him sneaking treats to them. He worried about how much water they were drinking and whether they were eating enough. He assisted me in medicating squirmy rats and was a more than competent partner when it came to corralling escaped rodents.I don’t think it sunk in for Andrew that he had become a rat-person until he hurt his back. The doctor ordered strict bed rest, so for nearly two weeks he was relegated to the couch in our living room with only his computer and the rats to entertain him. The rats we were fostering at this point were two shy and skittish girls we had named Dot and Mim. They spent most of their time cowering in their hammock, coming out only when bribed with Cheerios and fleeing at the slightest sounds or movements. They nipped at us and squealed whenever we tried to pick them up, but something about having Andrew lying prone just outside their cage 16 hours a day piqued their curiosity.
By the third day, they were coming out of their hiding places and watching him through the bars, their noses twitching. Andrew couldn’t do much else, other than watch back. Of rats and men, contemplating life in the living room! He watched them eat, sleep, groom and play. He figured out that Dot was the bossy girl and Mim was the more submissive of the two. He gave them an old T-shirt to build a nest with and observed as they arranged and then re-arranged their cage. I got daily updates from the husband and attentive faces from the rats whenever I returned home from work. As Andrew’s back healed, so did their trust in humans.
We’ve had other fosters since Dot and Mim, but Andrew takes the most pride in the work that he did with those two little ladies. They went from frightened animals, to sweet adoptable pets. I know fostering has shown many people the rewards of being kind and patient–lessons we all could use reminders for every now and again. He recently confessed to me, “I didn’t think I would like rats, but…they’re pretty cool!”
That’s the beautiful thing about fostering and opening your heart and homes to animals. You end up learning just as much about yourself as you do about them!
Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section & watch for more stories from Rattie Ratz every other month. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to Rattie Ratz.