Rattie Ratz Rescue: A Big Personality in a Small Package

 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 I walked into the East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley, CA, in March 2019, I wasn’t expecting to take home any new animal companions. We visit the store often, simply because my kids loved looking at the wide variety of cold-blooded critters, from baby bearded dragons to venomous spiders to the enormous 15-foot-long yellow python named Lemondrop. But as we walked past the front counter, I saw a small cardboard box being shown to a customer (who I overheard saying something about a snake at home).

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I couldn’t help myself. I took a look inside the box, and my heart went out to the little creatures scampering around the shavings inside. Tiny, all ears and puffball body, they were mice, probably only four weeks old. Instead of the typical “feeder” mice that I had seen, which were white with red eyes, all of these were a sprinkle of different colors – reddish roan, yellow with a white patch, and salt-and-pepper merle.
Rescued mouse Tree
The clerk said that the store was often donated former research study mice from nearby UC Berkeley, and the result over generations was this drop-cloth sprinkling of colors. One mouse in particular caught my eye. This one was very small, fuzzy, and round like a ping-pong ball. It had a black body with a bold white stripe around the middle and a half gray, half black face. 

“Are they males or females?” I asked. I was trying and failing not to form an attachment already.

“These are the females,” the clerk said, looking dubiously at the puffballs scurrying around in the box. “but at this age, I’ll admit it’s a little hard to tell.” 

I didn’t know a lot about mice, but I knew that the males had to live alone, otherwise they fight. If we were taking any home, they’d have to be all females. I did a quick check of the mouse with the white band and didn’t see any tell-tale “trouble-puffs.” I thought about her possibly being taken home by the other customer, the one with the snake. That was enough for me. I asked the clerk to pick her out along with two other females and put them in a box. I was taking them home.

As a foster home volunteer for Rattie Ratz Rescue, I’d had lots of experience with rats, including shy ones that came from bad situations, but I didn’t have much experience with mice. After some lightly obsessive research via YouTube, Reddit, and online mouse forums, I started to get a handle on things. Three females could live in a DIY bin cage for very cheap, and you could make a lot of the toys and enrichments they enjoy. They liked out of cage time like rats but aren’t as demanding of your time.

My two daughters and surprised husband - well, not too surprised, since he knows who he married! - helped me set up a cute enclosure for the mice out of a modified clear storage bin. The kids wasted no time in naming them: Tree (the black mouse with the white band), Cloud (a gray and white merle), and Sky (a yellow mouse with a white patch). They were a little scared but warmed up quickly with treats and attention over the next few days.  

There was one problem, however. Well, two little problems. Tree was a he not a she. I was baffled by the sudden appearance of these testicles. Just a few days ago there was nothing! After some more research, I found out that unlike rats, mice – and especially baby mice – can tuck up their precious cargo when they’re nervous. 

There was no question of returning Tree to the vivarium, so we set about making a new bachelor pad for him. Since he would be by himself and need extra attention, I put his enclosure right next to my office upstairs. I work remotely full-time, sitting at a computer at my desk, and it can be a little lonely. I quickly grew to enjoy my new coworker. True, he was a little stinky. Like some coworkers you may have worked with, male mice have a signature musk that can be quite pungent. 

Over the next few months, Tree grew into a beautiful adult mouse. He kept the black patch over his face and the white band on his middle, but his black body grayed out into a pretty roan. I kept his cage interesting with apple branches, jute rope, a dig box with live herbs, a small basket hanging from the ceiling, and a comfy pocket hammock. The hammock became his favorite spot to sleep and also beg for treats. He loved coming out to visit me and explore my desk, checking for any crumbs I may have missed. I often left his cage top open during the workday, so he could come and go as he pleased. He especially loved digging in my succulent planters and looking out the window to see what the neighbors were up to.

After COVID hit, our living circumstances changed drastically. With two young kids, and my husband changing jobs, we were increasingly having a difficult time being so isolated from our extended family. We decided to make the big move from California to Ohio, where both my husband’s family and mine live. Logistically, it would be difficult to move with our mice, who were approaching 2 years old. We needed to fly on a plane to get there, then stay at my sister’s house for at least a month while the movers shipped our furniture cross-country.

My sister has two cats who would be entirely too interested in a new mouse roommate. I had already rehomed our female mouse Cloud a month or so previously, since her companion Sky had passed away and she was all alone. Cloud was living happily in San Francisco with a nice woman who gave her hours of free roam time out of the cage. But what about Tree? He was so personable and friendly, a wonderful companion. I needed to make sure he had a great home too.

Jeri holding Tree
Happily, another Rattie Ratz volunteer stepped up. Jeri is a foster volunteer who, like me, had cared for many rats but was new to mice. She and her partner quickly agreed to take the little guy, and I knew right away it was a great match.

Happy in his new home, Tree has a huge cage with ropes, baskets, lots of bedding to dig in, and tons of out of cage time. Jeri takes him out every evening and lets him explore, and she makes sure he gets plenty of his favorite treat, organic salt-free corn chips. When he came down with a respiratory illness, Jeri carefully gave him his medicine daily, even using a nebulizer when necessary, and he recovered nicely. He is well loved and cared for, and I smile every time I get an update on how he’s doing.

At 2 years 7 months old, Tree is truly a golden senior. He is more gray now than ever, and is slowing down a little, but he is still the prettiest and most personable mouse you’ll ever find. From a sad little cardboard box in a reptile store to a happy, loving home, Tree is living the good life.

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.