Rattie Ratz Rescue: Rusty & Woody

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.     

Longtime Rattie Ratz adopter, Jason, is the rare person who specializes in difficult rats. Most adopters – quite understandably – are looking for friendly, relaxed rats that can transition quickly into their new home. While Rattie Ratz does adopt out a great many of these “easy” rats every year, sometimes the rescue comes across pet rats that need a little more help. Maybe these rats were not socialized as babies and are now terrified of being handled, or maybe they’ve resorted to biting as a way to try to protect themselves. 

That’s where adopters like Jason come in. It takes an exceptional amount of patience and skill to allow very timid or aggressive rats to learn to trust you and let down their guard. Over the years, Jason has adopted and rehabilitated former lab rats, unsocialized scaredy rats, and even rats that bite. 


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Rusty is just such a rat. He would bite and bite hard. Rusty to this day is a beautiful rat, an unusual gray-blue color fading to white on the belly, with a little white star on his forehead. His adorable face belied the fact that any hands in the cage were considered fair game. 
Rusty

At the time, Jason had a sweet, chubby white rat named Sammy who had just lost his friend. Sammy was a former lab rat that had started out shy but blossomed under Jason’s care. Jason heard about Rusty through a Rattie Ratz volunteer. Here was an extremely naughty boy who had absolutely no interest in being touched, and in fact would go out of his way to bite you! Did Jason want him? Jason didn’t hesitate. 

The good news was that Sammy and Rusty got along right off the bat, but Rusty proved to be a tricky guy to socialize. Most recommendations for taming include hand-feeding treats and picking the rats up a lot of times to get them used to human contact. That wasn’t going to work here! Picking up was out of the question, and Jason even had to be careful when cleaning the cage, as Rusty was quite touchy about his space. “He would literally lunge at me from across the cage,” Jason laughs.

Jason instead used a hands-off approach to socializing Rusty. He never tried to grab him or force him out of the cage. Friendly rat Sammy was already used to climbing up Jason’s arm to his shoulder to be taken to the free roam area, so by allowing Rusty to follow Sammy’s lead (and with the help of a little baby food), Rusty learned pretty quickly that coming out of the cage and riding on Jason’s shoulder meant fun playtime. Then, Jason progressed to placing his arms (with long sleeves!) horizontally in front of the cage door to allow Rusty to climb out.

Hands can be scary to rats; arms are less intimidating. Over just a matter of weeks, Rusty progressed until he was quickly and confidently running up Jason’s arms to his shoulders. Likewise, soon all Jason had to say was “let’s go!” and Rusty would run up his leg to his shoulders when it was time to go back. It wasn’t long after that when Rusty surprised Jason by trusting him completely – no more biting, just friendly licks and even sitting on his lap for pets and snuggles. Rusty became a “heart rat” to Jason, a rat that shares an especially deep bond.

Rusty continued to be a good friend to his cage mate Sammy, and after Sammy passed away from old age at a very respectable 3 years old, Jason took in a sprightly little black-and-white female rat named Clover as a friend for Rusty (Rusty is neutered). Clover was tiny and bursting with energy, and happily bossed Rusty around. Rusty seemed to perk up with the addition of the much-younger companion. However, sadly, after months of battling an incurable respiratory infection, and despite trying every treatment available, Clover passed away too. 

Jason knew he needed another friend for Rusty, but it was difficult. It had been painful losing Sammy and then Clover. Rusty was approaching 3 years old as well – was it worthwhile getting another rat? Jason decided it was. Rusty was a senior, but still had a lot of pep in him, and his increasingly stressed behavior showed he was clearly lonely. 

The decision made Jason approached Rattie Ratz to adopt again, but although Rusty had gotten along great with Sammy and Clover, he soon showed how particular he actually was when choosing friends. First Jason tried matching him with a very friendly, fluffy albino rex boy named Carlton. Rusty rejected him immediately, fluffing up all his fur and even hissing. “He actually stomped his front legs on the ground like Donkey Kong,” says Jason.

Jason tried all the introduction tricks he knew with Carlton and Rusty, but it was just not going to work. Carlton went to another adoptive home, and Rusty was still alone.

Woody

Luckily for Rusty, Rattie Ratz had another misunderstood fellow who would turn out to be the perfect match. Woody is an agouti (“wild type” color) rat who came to the rescue absolutely terrified, screeching at any contact. He had been living in a Rattie Ratz sanctuary home for a while, safe but not able to be handled. When Jason heard about Woody, he jumped at the chance. Like Rusty, Woody was neutered and likely would not present as a threat. Jason took him home, and the boys surprised him with “the most boring introduction ever.” They sniffed each other, groomed, and were bonded the first day. 

Woody made fast friends with Rusty but was incredibly timid with Jason. “He was super scared,” says Jason. “I’d never had a rat literally whine and cry when I tried to pick him up. So, I just let him do his thing.”

Jason added a ramp from the cage to the floor so Woody could choose to come and go. “He started coming to check on me whenever we were doing free roam time. It was really cute.” 

The two rats snuggle for naptime in the cage and stick together at playtime. The only time they’ve been apart is when Rusty had to have a benign mass removed at age 3, and the veterinarian recommended that they be separated for two weeks while Rusty recovered. 

Jason shares that the boys still found ways to hang out even though they weren’t in the same cage. “They love each other. While Woody was out running around by himself, and Rusty was in the cage with the doors closed, Woody ran up the ramp to see him.” The two friends exchanged a few kisses before Woody ran off to play again. “It was so cute,” says Jason. “I think they missed each other.”

Rusty has since recovered beautifully, and Woody has been thriving in his new home, despite showing his age with some hind-end weakening, not uncommon for senior rats. “Woody is definitely happy, even though he’s still timid,” says Jason. 

Recently, they had a great breakthrough. “As I said, I have been letting him do his thing, which is usually avoiding me at all costs,” Jason laughs, “but the other night he crawled onto my chest, then started licking my chin. That’s huge progress!”

It’s no surprise that the big brown rat has started letting down his guard. Jason’s special way with pet rats shows a deep and true understanding of their nature and how to gain their trust. 

“I’m really not forcing them to do anything. Woody is one of the timidest rats I’ve ever had. He’s so scared. But now he takes head rubs in the cage, and he seems to like that. He’ll even go on my shoulder for a bit, though he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. He’s still very awkward.” 

Jason thinks back about when he first considered taking in Woody. “I remember when [Rattie Ratz founder] Diane first described him to me – she said he was ‘a bit of a mess,’ and that’s why he was a sanctuary rat. But I didn’t care, never do. They’re not for me, I’m for them.” 

 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.

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