Rattie Ratz Rescue: A Soft Place to Land

By Steph D’Agostino

Steph D’Agostino is a Rattie Ratz Rescue social media volunteer. She loves educating the public about pet rats and sharing cute pics of the rescue rats.

As a Rattie Ratz foster volunteer, I had taken in a variety of rats, but one rat has stayed in my heart for a long time. Jerry was a large black and white hooded rat that had been caught outside and was listed as a “stray.” From what little information we had, I knew it might be a challenging case. Domestic rats released outside 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 the succumb to the heat or cold before they can be rescued. The ones that are saved often arrive terrified.

➡ switch to KingsRiverLife.com for more articles ⬅

Jerry was one of the lucky rats who had been caught in time. Often shelters will reach out to Rattie Ratz when they have pet rats, since they know the rats will have a much better chance of adoption if they’re rehabilitated in a foster home.

When I first picked him up to bring him home, I noticed that he was an older rat and he was breathing hard, despite simply resting in the transport carrier. He had a rough coat and was skinnier than a healthy adult male rat should be. He didn’t try to bite me, but you could tell he was uncomfortable and didn’t want to be touched.

I brought him home and set him up in a clean cage with toys, hammocks, food and water - everything he needed. Since he was a solo rat, I put the cage in my home office, next to my desk. It was a quiet space next to a sunny window with plants on the windowsill. I put a blanket over the top of the cage to make sure he felt secure and didn’t get too much sun. Jerry didn’t seem to know what hammocks were at first, but when I gently placed him in one, he figured it out. For the first time, I could see him starting to relax.

Poor Jerry’s breathing remained heavy, and a visit to the vet confirmed that he had a chronic respiratory infection that had gone on a long time and was only made worse by his time as a stray. Jerry already didn’t want much to do with me, but now I had to give him medicine twice a day, to his great displeasure. I wrapped him in a small towel like a burrito to keep him steady. He struggled and squeaked as I syringed meds into his mouth, then ran back into his cage the moment I released him and gave him his treat.

Every day I gave him some little treats and talked to him throughout my work day as I sat at the computer next to his cage. I gave him extra nutritious and soft foods, like mashed sweet potato, banana, avocado, yogurt, and oatmeal, but I still didn’t get very far with him. My attempts to pet him were shrugged off. If I tried to hold him, he scooted away. So, I followed his lead and simply left the cage door open for him to come and go as he pleased.

Caring for scared and sometimes defensive rescue 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. That’s why I was so touched the first time I saw him bruxing! Bruxing is when rats gently chew or rub their teeth together in contentment. One day while he was resting in his hammock as usual, he let me pet him gently on the head, and before I knew it, he was bruxing. He was finally starting to enjoy affection.

Soon he was coming out of the cage on his own. I made a little ramp so he could get to the top of the cage easily. Every day after breakfast I would open the cage door when I started work. Jerry would climb up the ramp and go to the sunny windowsill, where he would pick a plant to sleep on for the day. My daughters were quite charmed seeing the black and white “Panda Rat” all cozy among the leaves. Sometimes I would find that one of them had carefully draped a rat-sized blanket over him while he slept.
I grew quite fond of my little office buddy. It seemed like he’d had a tough life, and maybe he hadn’t known much kindness before coming to the rescue. Jerry still didn’t want to be held, but we had a good routine, and seeing him enjoying his retirement snuggled in a plant, sleeping in the sun, was good enough for me.

Sadly, over the next couple of months, Jerry’s chronic respiratory illness, which had gone untreated for a long time before he came to the rescue, became increasingly difficult to manage. When we were approaching the point where we knew we’d be unable to keep him comfortable on a daily basis, we made the kind decision to have him humanely put to sleep. It is never easy having to say goodbye, but it brought me some comfort to know that for the time that I had him, and then at the very end of his life, the Panda Rat had a safe place to land.

 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.