Rattie Ratz Rescue: Yolo Yard Boy

 by Stephanie 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 fan of rats ever since she got her first rats, an agouti named Rochelle and a topaz named Princess Francesca.  

When longtime Rattie Ratz foster volunteer, Kim Davis, was contacted by the rescue to see if she could take a solo male rat who had been caught outside, she didn’t hesitate. Still, she knew it would be a challenging case as domestic rats released into the “wild” have a very hard time of it. They have no protective burrows, no instincts for where to find food or water and are easy victims for parasites and predators. Exposed to the elements for too long, many simply succumb to the heat or cold before they can be rescued. The ones that are saved often arrive terrified.

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Remus now greets Kim at the cage door.
Remus was the lucky rat who had been caught in time. Rattie Ratz Rescue was contacted by the Yolo County Shelter in Woodland, CA, in May 2021. They had taken in a rat that was living in a woman’s backyard for 3 weeks – a long time for a domestic rat to be outside alone. This guy had moxie.

Kim shares a bit of the background. “The woman said her dog and the rat would play… I’m not sure what kind of dog or what her version of “play” is! The woman knew from his coloring that he wasn’t a wild rat and that she couldn’t continue with her dog being so interested in the rat. She caught Remus (not sure how) and took him to the shelter.”

Many shelters are not adequately set up for the specific needs of small companion animals like rats and hamsters, so that’s where Rattie Ratz steps in. The rescue often works with local shelters to bring domestic rats into foster homes and give them a better chance at adoption.

Kim was excited to make the drive out to the Yolo County Shelter to pick him up. When she arrived, she told the animal control officer who greeted her that she was with Rattie Ratz, and the officer immediately became more cheerful and animated, telling Kim all about this rat that had lived outside. “I took her demeanor as a good sign – his reputation precedes him,” said Kim. “The animal control officer is smiling, chatty, not showing me where he bit her!” Kim laughs. Everyone was happy to see Kim and that “the rat” would be going to a foster home. 

They brought Remus out in a small animal cage. He was hunched and puffy. Kim’s first thoughts were, “He’s a handsome hooded boy, he’s older than I expected, and he’s big!” Kim had presumed a rat living outside would be thinner. If he was released or simply escaped, the shelter didn’t know.

Remus when Kim first got him from the shelter

Kim brought him home and set him up in a double-level Critter Nation cage with toys, hammocks, food, water, and everything he needed. He stayed on the top level, hunched, his fur puffy, hesitant to explore. Puffing up the fur can be a sign of fear or even aggression. He wasn’t ready to be touched, but Kim got to work. Every time she walked past his cage, she would say hi and offer a little treat, starting to build rapport.

He was quite dirty from living outside, so Kim set up a pea fishing station in his cage. He had no idea what it was and no interest in touching the water! Kim introduced him to the shower by having him in the bathroom while the water was running to get used to the noise, opening the door so he could run in and out of the shower stall. She took it very slowly and never made him feel he was cornered, so that he finally allowed her to bathe him, although obviously it wasn’t his favorite thing. 

Remus with a puzzle game to add enrichment  
Back in the cage, Remus still didn’t seem to know what hammocks and tunnels were about, and Kim had to actually put him in the hammock, so he knew what it was for. Now he sleeps in them all the time, his little body finally relaxing.

“He’s still a little defensive when it comes to personal space,” shares Kim. When he gets overstimulated or excited, he will grab Kim’s hand or fingers with his teeth, and he doesn’t appreciate hands moving about in his space. Kim found out it’s best if he’s not present for cage cleaning, hammock changes, or toy swaps. “He hasn’t hurt me, but he put enough pressure in a nip to let me know that he’d like me to rethink how I do things. Yes, sir!”

After about two weeks, Remus seemed to realize that he was in a pretty good place. Now he always greets Kim at the cage door looking for free roam time or treats. Remus is a junk food junkie who greedily grabs snacks and treats and immediately throws healthy foods on the floor. He’ll search Kim’s hands checking to see if there’s anything better. “He will eventually eat his healthy snacks, just not while I’m looking,” says Kim.

As you can see from the photos, Remus is wonderfully big and squishy. For living on his own out in the “wild,” he is quite docile and sweet, and actually, not much of an athlete. “He has the waddle of a professional snacker,” says Kim.

Remus is still a bit quirky. He prefers to drink out of a bowl, not a water bottle. If Kim tells him to leave something alone on free roam and carries him away from it, he runs back to it as soon as she turns him loose. He likes being scratched, but only behind the ears, not the cheeks. While most rats brux and boggle (gently grinding the teeth in contentment), when Remus is happy his little tongue darts in and out like a lizard. “It’s super cute,” says Kim. 

Kim first joined Rattie Ratz as a foster volunteer years ago, after she lost her two rat girls. Kim shares, “My girls were so much fun and I still wanted that interaction, but I dreaded losing another pet. Fostering gives me the opportunity to meet many different rats, each with their own unique personalities and quirks. I feel good knowing that I’m helping a rat out of a shelter or keeping a rat from ever being surrendered at a shelter.”

Kim shares that fostering rats is a learning process. Rats are prey animals, and their behavior is often quite different from dogs and cats. While they may not bark or purr, they have their own body language and ways of showing that they feel safe and comfortable.

Remus finally relaxed in his hammock
“I’m always learning,” says Kim. “What works for one rat doesn’t always work for another. I had pulled another young solo boy, Skipper, from a shelter a few years ago. He’d been dumped at a storage unit and was terrified when I got him home. Just as I did with Remus, I took things very slowly and respected his space and body language. Skipper turned out to be a silly, social, playful little guy. I absolutely adored him, and it was so hard to let him go, but I know his new adoptive family loved him just as much as I do, and that makes me happy.”

Kim is hopeful that Remus, like Skipper, will find his own happy ending with a forever home. “I’m really enjoying him - he’s getting quite spoiled at this point. Remus is a wonderful little character, and like all my fosters I will miss him when he goes to his forever family. He will be a great addition to a home that will respect his space and continue to introduce him to new adventures at his pace.”

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.