Rattie Ratz Rescue: Sanctuary Homes

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 sharing cute pics of the rescue rats.

Rattie Ratz Rescue is based in the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California, and through the work of a network of volunteers they’re able to foster and adopt out many different types of domestic rats, from all different situations. Many of the rats that are surrendered to the rescue are healthy and friendly, and some even come from a loving home, but due to unfortunate circumstances (moving, allergies, or illness), the rats end up at Rattie Ratz. These “easy” rats are able to be adopted after a few weeks or months in a foster home. Handling, socializing, and treatment for any illnesses are usually enough to prepare them for their new homes.

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Some rats are “tough cases.” Maybe they were abandoned outside and are terrified. Perhaps they lived in an aquarium for most of their lives and have chronic respiratory illness (rats should be housed in large wire cages with good ventilation!). These special needs rats have ongoing medical or behavioral issues that mean adoption isn’t the best path for them - they’re better suited for the care of a sanctuary home.

What is a sanctuary home?

Sanctuary home volunteers care for rescue rats in their home, just like they were their own rats. Because these are special needs rats that may be more medically fragile, they are under the permanent care of Rattie Ratz. That means Rattie Ratz covers the rats’ vet costs and medical bills, and provides food, bedding, and other things they need. Rattie Ratz also supplies the sanctuary home volunteer with a cage and enrichment toys. And more experienced volunteers are available to troubleshoot and answer questions.

The sanctuary rats have a safe, loving home with the sanctuary volunteer for the remainder of their lives. 

Rattie Ratz founder, Diane Nesom, explains that while most sanctuary home volunteers are local to the Bay Area, since it is easier to get supplies to them, Rattie Ratz would consider non-local volunteers as well. For example, Molly, a long-time Rattie Ratz volunteer, currently cares for the most sanctuary rats for the rescue – over a dozen! - and she lives in Oregon (check out her Instagram account for adorable pics of the sanctuary rats).

Piper and Nimue, two of Molly's sanctuary rats

What kind of rats need a sanctuary home?

Some of these rats need medical care, such as regular tooth trimming for misaligned teeth, or daily antibiotics for respiratory illness. Some are very senior and just need a soft place to land for the remainder of their golden time. Others are very, very, shy and need careful handling. Maybe they will try to nip hands in the cage or jump and run at any loud noise. A dedicated caring home is needed! 

Diane shares that “one of our biggest challenges is rats who are cage aggressive.” 

Cage aggression (also known as “territorial aggression”) is when rats feel cornered and threatened when scary things, like your hands, enter their safe space. Some of them may try to bite if you reach into their favorite hammock to pick them up; others consider their whole cage or even a playpen a safe space, or they’ll try to nip if you reach for them in a way they think is frightening. 

Diane says, “Most are not insanely cage aggressive, but it’s enough that you need to have patience and experience to avoid being bitten.” 

For these rats, sanctuary home volunteers often use a small blanket to gently pick up the rats with two hands to bring them out of the cage. Unlike gloves, which are super scary, the dark snug blanket is baffling, and the rats just sit quietly inside. Sometimes carers wear a long-sleeve shirt and lay their arms in front of the cage door – more approachable than being grabbed by hands. Or they even leave the cage door open so the rats can come and go for playtime once they’re comfortable.

Pretty Nicky, Lil’ Tail Joe, and Kevin.

I cared for three black-and-white hooded foster rats – Pretty Nicky, Lil’ Tail Joe, and Kevin – who would eventually be placed in a sanctuary home. The boys were saved from a hoarding situation where over a hundred rats were rescued from awful conditions. They arrived both terrified and “bitey.”

Lil' Tail Joe, Pretty Nicky, and Kevin
All three would freeze when you entered the room, and Lil’ Tail Joe (left with an extra-short tail from an old injury) would literally close his eyes and tremble, like he was wishing to disappear. Pretty Nicky was the least scared, but he was very protective of his brothers. When I had to give Kevin some medicine, Nicky ran over and nipped my hand as if to say, “Don’t hurt him!” Since Kevin had a skin condition that required daily treatment with topical medicine and syringed antibiotics, I learned to occupy Nicky and Joe with some whipped cream while I tended to their brother.

Lil' Tail Joe feeling more confident on free roam
Despite the extra work, they were adorable and fun to have around. They quickly learned that when I opened their cage door and offered a small cardboard box, that meant fun playtime was happening (a little food motivation and they learned very quickly!). All three boys would hop in the box, and I could carry them safely to the playpen. Lil’ Tail Joe eventually deemed me safe enough to climb on. Sitting on the top of my head was his favorite spot.

I worked with them every day, but the boys remained slow to socialize or even allow contact, plus Kevin’s skin condition was proving persistent, so Rattie Ratz decided that a permanent sanctuary home was the best place for them. 

Looking for All-Stars

Although these three boys ended up with a caring and experienced volunteer, Rattie Ratz has several other rats currently at the rescue who are still waiting patiently for permanent sanctuary homes of their own. 

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll, and Rattie Ratz is experiencing this acutely. More rats are being surrendered, and many of them have medical or behavioral issues. Most adopters are either new to pet rats, or they are not willing or experienced enough to care for rats that need that something extra. Rattie Ratz is looking for volunteers that can provide a little extra patience, no judgment, and a willingness to learn new things. Sanctuary home volunteers can do all that – they are the All-Stars of the Rescue!

Rattie Ratz founder, Diane Nesom, says, “If folks are local, experienced with rats, and willing to help – they can apply to become a sanctuary home for us. In those cases, these harder rats will stay in sanctuary the rest of their lives, and the rescue will provide supplies, food, bedding, and vet care.”

Super cute, super shy, Pikachu and Voldemort (neutered males) are examples of two rats that are still waiting for their All-Star. These boys are just hyper-tuned to noise and tend to jump and hide at the first sign of “danger.” They do enjoy their free roam time, so their current foster volunteer, Anne, opens the cage door to let them come out when they’re comfortable, play, and return when they’re ready. 

Pikachu and Voldemort, waiting for their sanctuary home

Anne has a lot of experience and relies on a few tricks of the trade to help scaredy rats. “I always keep some yummy treats on hand and give them out when the rats are brave enough to approach me. Not every rat is able or willing to like me, but they all learn that I’m where the good stuff comes from!”

Anne says that keeping a routine can also help – rats are smart and quickly figure out when it’s time to eat or time to play, and they look forward to that. Anne says, “Some of them turn out to be OK with touch, but only in certain situations, which I think is totally reasonable.” 

Anne laughs: “I am very much like this as well, so I’m sympathetic.”

Anne has had Pikachu and Voldemort in her care for a few months and has made a little progress, but they still are scaredy, and can be a little too interested in taking drive-by nips at socked feet! She thinks that a sanctuary home is a better fit. 

You are their “forever.”

Bowie, one of Garth's sanctuary rats
Rattie Ratz has other rats like Pikachu and Voldemort that would be perfect for a sanctuary home. They come in all shapes and sizes, different colors, some younger and some quite senior. When it comes to life expectancy, compared to other domestic animals like dogs and cats, rats live very short lives. They often are with us only 1 to 3 years; it’s very rare for rats to make it more than a few months past their third birthday. It can be hard to lose them, but Rattie Ratz volunteer Garth, who has cared for many foster rats and sanctuary rats in his time, has a way of looking at it which puts things in perspective.

“We get them for such a short time,” says Garth, “but to them, they get us forever.”

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.