Rattie Ratz Rescue Sisters: a Phyllis and a Rhoda

by Steph D’Agostino                                                                                  

Steph D’Agostino is a Rattie Ratz Rescue social media volunteer who loves hosting live educational events for the rescue and spamming cute pics of the rescue rats. Steph has been a big fan of rats ever since she got her first rats, an agouti named Rochelle and a topaz named Princess Francesca.  

Phyllis and Rhoda are two beautiful white rats with bright pink eyes who were rescued after being used for a very misguided school “experiment.” The two girls were purchased to be used in class and lived in a small cage in the back of the classroom. For the entire school year, one sister was fed healthy food, while the other sister was fed junk food. They didn’t get much attention or cage enrichment, and on the weekends and holidays, they were left alone in the empty school.

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What this experiment was trying to prove that couldn’t be discovered by a simple Google search, we’re not sure. However, the result is that a whole classroom of children was shown, quite wrongly, that it is acceptable to exploit and use small animals for a temporary purpose, without a care to their well-being. 

When the school year ended, the teacher asked if any of the kids wanted them, and a boy in the class took the two rats home, but he quickly lost interest, as kids often do, and the girls were neglected. Luckily, his mom felt sorry for the girls and called Rattie Ratz Rescue.

Tonia Moore, a former veterinary technician and an animal rights advocate, had been wanting to adopt rats for almost a year and, on hearing these girls’ story, she had a feeling they would be her new family members. She didn’t mind at all that they were already over a year old; she had adopted senior dogs and a senior cat in the past and knew how rewarding older companions can be. Tonia shares, “The girls were shy but remarkably well-adjusted after being neglected for so long.” Tonia, who loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show as a child, named the girls Phyllis and Rhoda (after Mary’s best friends on the TV show).  

Phyllis and Rhoda

At first, the girls were nervous. They shied from Tonia’s hands and didn’t want to be picked up, but she gently persisted. Every day she would coax them into a carrier and take them to a small free roam area. Tonia picked the bathroom, since it was an enclosed space that was safe for them, with no tiny hiding spots. She set up a blanket, fun to hide in, and toys, and just sat with them, giving them time to relax – and eventually explore. “They started running up to my feet, then climbing on me. They just needed some time to trust me and feel safe.”

After a week, the girls were coming out of their shells – climbing, running, knocking things over. Their individual personalities started to shine through. Phyllis quickly revealed herself to be the adventurer, the first one out to explore and the quickest to trust. Rhoda, while the more dominant rat (and not afraid to swipe a treat right from her sister’s mouth!), was the one who preferred to hang back and check things out until she knew it was all clear.

Tonia continued to work on trust training by picking them up frequently, holding them close with both hands so they would feel secure, and rewarding them with treats. Soon Tonia didn’t have to worry about them escaping and hiding anymore, so Phyllis and Rhoda graduated from the bathroom to full free roam of the house during playtime.  

The girls were thriving, but a few months later, trouble struck. “Phyllis had a tumor removed by the rescue before I adopted her,” shares Tonia, “but 6 months later, it grew back.”

Benign mammary tumors, common in un-spayed female rats, are treatable and not cancerous, but they must be removed for the rat to live a comfortable life. Tonia contacted her vet, Dr. Ava Ackerman from Belmont Pet Hospital, and had the lump removed. Phyllis had a couple of painful days post-op, then healed quickly and clearly felt good.

Then eight months later, Rhoda also developed a tumor in a a tricky spot for removal. Her age made Tonia worry whether it was the right choice to put her through surgery, but Rhoda still acted young and vivacious. It felt like she was telling Tonia not to count her out. Again “Dr. Ackerman did a wonderful job. Both girls have healed well, and neither has had the tumor grow back.”

Rhoda, a few days after her tumor removal surgery  

Tonia wanted to share the importance of good food, lots of attention, and proper vet care for helping our rat companions live their lives to the fullest. Phyllis and Rhoda, now golden seniors, have blossomed from the little white rats ignored in the back of a tiny cage, to confident and loved members of the family. For those considering adopting rats who are a bit older, on the shy side, or rescued from unfortunate backgrounds, have a little faith that the way they are today is not how they’ll be forever. For many rescued animals, they just need some care, consistency, and attention to learn to trust and relax. 

“They’re just sweet girls,” says Tonia. “They were over a year old when I got them, and I’ve had them for a year and a half, but even though they are seniors now, they don’t act like it. They’re always running and exploring, checking out new human friends that visit. My girls are wonderful ambassadors for their species.”

If you would like to know more about Rattie Ratz Rescue or find out about upcoming information/adoption events, please visit our Facebook or Instagram. If you are interested in adoptable rats or volunteering for Rattie Ratz Rescue, visit their website at www.rattieratz.com.

Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section on Kings River Life, and the Pets section here on KRL News & Reviews. Check back every month for another animal rescue adventure from Feral Paws. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to a local animal rescue. We also have a special Facebook Group for our pet articles--join and never miss a pet article.