“I want the pretty one in the picture!” Yes, a picture may say a thousand words but a photo does not say anything about an animal’s personality. When trying to find the right rat for you…or just the right animal in general, you need to invest the time to actually go around and *meet* the potential matches in person. Just like, you wouldn’t buy a house without seeing it or a car without driving it, please do not expect to adopt rats or any other animal without meeting them first! I understand that you might have aversions to say, albinos and their “freaky red eyes” or manx rats with no tails or hairless rats – that’s perfectly understandable but, for most other factors, the best thing to do is to start meeting rats and see which one(s) speak to you.
There are some broad questions to consider when choosing the right rats to bring home. Are you adopting a companion for an existing rat or rats? Are you adopting for a particular person in the family (child, adult only, elderly, etc)? Are you adopting for a particular reason (emotional support, companion, training, etc)? How much time do you have to spend with these new companions? How much space do you have for them? Are you aware of their medical needs and related expenses?
There are also several broad generalizations about rats that can help you hone in on the right choice. The personalities of baby/young/adolescent rats may change as they mature. Female rats tend to be a bit smaller and more active than males. Males tend to be larger and more lazy than females. Females are more prone to mammary tumors. Males are more likely to potentially become dominant and/or aggressive. Rats with special needs might be very satisfying and rewarding to care for but they will also have unique medical needs and expenses.
Every situation is unique and rats make excellent companions for a wide range of families. They don’t need a lot of time, space, or resources. You can easily go away for a long weekend and leave the rats with plenty of food and water and they will be just fine. They live in cages so your home is typically safe from animal related damage. They eat a relatively affordable block diet and they are omnivores and will happily devour scraps from your dinner! There are some things that they shouldn’t eat and a quick Google search will render many lists of details but the basic rule of thumb is “things in moderation” and “if you won’t eat it, don’t feed it to them.”
So…how do you find the right rat for you? You think about your situation and why you want to get rats and you go from there! Rats are VERY social and do best in pairs or small groups. There are exceptions that typically involve rat aggressive males but usually rats can find tolerable buddies. The bigger the cage, the better, but you’ll need the same size cage for 1 rat as you will for 2 so it’s best to get at least 2 and I often suggest getting 3 just in case one passes away earlier, you don’t have to jump into introductions right away. Most people who adopt from us will adopt a pair of rats.
Debating between male or female depends on what general personality you are hoping for. If you want to explore trick training, potty training, or other interactive and playful activities, then you are likely better off with females. If you want a companion to chill and cuddle up on the couch with you while you read your Kindle or watch Netflix, then you probably want a male. Of course, these are broad generalizations and there are always exceptions but by and large, rats tend to fall into the active/inquisitive girls and the larger/laid back boys.
With regard to age, again, there are general pros and cons to each age range. The younger the rat is, the more time you will get to spend with your companion. Rats, in general, only live about 2-3 years. In my opinion, anything over 2 years of age should be seen as “bonus time.” Rats may reach ages of 3 and beyond but, in my experience, that is exceptional. Baby rats are cute and fun but they also go through their potentially troublesome “teen” time and their personalities may change post puberty. This is more often a risk when choosing males but females have also been known to become more dominant/aggressive after the 6-8 month mark.
I, personally, prefer to adopt adult animals. Yes, this gives you moderately less time with your companion but “what you see is what you get” usually holds true when adopting an adult. If you really want a certain temperament or personality, choose an adult who already exhibits those traits you are looking for. I will often also choose to adopt senior rats. Seniors are typically rats that are 2+ years of age and already in their “borrowed time” allowance. I find caring for senior animals exceptionally rewarding but I would not suggest it for the novice rat person because this is the time when their bodies are starting to fail on them and it can get very expensive if you are going to the vet for everything. As you become more knowledgeable, you’ll be able to handle a lot of medical/illness issues on your own but that takes time and experience. Typically, for most cases, I suggest adopting an adult that has the temperament/personality you are looking for or a young rat that can grow with you.
Guess what?? Rattie Ratz is 20 years old this year!! 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the humble beginnings of this amazing rat rescue and community service organization. As I look back on the last two decades of growth and development, I have to say that Rattie Ratz was never actually “founded.” I’m considered the “founder” but I never intended to launch a rat rescue. Rattie Ratz *found* me. It emerged and evolved, on it’s own, through my innate attraction to domestic pet rats and my overwhelming desire and drive to help people.
I am regularly asked, why rats? What on God’s green earth ever possessed you to start a rescue for rats?
As I already said, starting a rescue organization was never the plan. I graduated from Woodside High School in the early summer of 1998 and immediately started classes at Chabot College. At the time, I decided to move out of my parents home and I rented a room in a house closer to school. Having grown up with animals and *always* having some sort of furry companion, I soon realized that I desperately needed a companion animal. It was my first trimester in college and I was living in a room. I didn’t know where I was going to be in 2 years, let alone 10+ so dogs, cats, and all those other longer lived animals were decidedly out of the question. Little did I know at the time that, in less than a few months, I would be taking in needy rats.
To be honest, after doing A LOT of online research, I actually decided that I wanted to get mice! I went to my local pet shop and immediately found the tank of mice. I was checking them out as one of the sales associates approached me and asked me how large my snake was – excuse me?!? I explained my situation and was explicitly told that I didn’t actually want mice and, in fact, I wanted rats. Rats?? Yes, domestic pet rats! They are clean like cats, affectionate like dogs, live 2-3 years, and don’t require a lot of space. I left the store with a wire cage, 2 young rats, basic supplies, and NO idea what the hell I was doing.
I took my new companions home, set them up, and got back online to learn more about these rodents that I had brought into my life. The first week was rough to say the least. These rats were NOT raised to be pets. They were scared and bit me regularly. After the first week, I had to admit that I was in WAY over my head so I reluctantly decided to return the rats to the store. I was heartbroken and devastated but I did not feel like I had the knowledge, experience, or resources to rehab domestic feral rats. I lamented my first companion animal failure while talking to a friend who volunteered at The Peninsula Humane Society and she asked why I didn’t adopt rats instead. She agreed that rats were a great fit for my situation and said they had 3 adult females at the shelter that were looking for homes.
I had always associated humane societies with dogs and cats but never with any other animals. Upon arriving at the shelter, yes, it was confirmed that they mainly have dogs and cats but they had a small animal room with rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, and even mice! I was also informed that they had birds, reptiles, and occasionally even animals like fish. I was amazed that one organization would handle so many different types of animals but they told me how they network with independent rescuers and rescue organizations that specialize in all types of animals. Being an avid learner, all the new information was fascinating but I was there to meet these 3 rats that my friend had told me about.
I was escorted across the building and found myself in the “Small Animal Room.” It was, indeed, a small room filled with small animals. One kennel was opened and within that kennel there was a cage and within that cage there were 3 petite little rats. They were adult females but still seemed pretty small to me. I was informed that this was a standard size for girls and that the boys were typically a bit larger but they had no boys available at the time. After being badly bitten by my first pair of rats, I reluctantly put my fisted hand towards the open cage door and the girls eagerly came to check me out.
Before I knew it, all three girls had run up my arm, onto my shoulders, and were busily hiding in and exploring my long hair. They were sweet, social, and homeless. After filling out paperwork and giving the shelter a nominal adoption fee, I was headed back to my room, in the East Bay, to get them settled into their new home. I put them into their cage and gave them some time to check out their new digs. In the meantime, I was back online and trying to find pet rat resources in my area with very limited success.
Being a young person at a time when the internet was just starting to really take off, I was keenly interested in documenting my new rat experiences online so, like a lot of other people, I started my own little website. I mainly used the site as a journal to record links to other interesting sites, jot down notes and experiences, and show off photos of my new companions but, very soon after, I was being contacted by people in my area with rats. The first person just had 1 girl that needed a new home. I suggested looking for a rat rescue but was told that none existed nearby. After a quick search online for myself, I was inclined to agree.
She had companions that had all passed away and the person did not want to keep rats anymore but didn’t want this little girl to be alone and all by herself. I was asked if I would be willing to take her and blend her in with my 3 girls. I didn’t really see a problem with that, since they were all girls, so I agreed to meet the person and take in their remaining girl.
This girl blended right in with my other 3 girls but, very suddenly, their cage looked SO much smaller with 4 girls running around than it had with the 3. I was also informed that this 4th girl *loved* her wheel and had the “wheel tail” to prove it! I went to the pet store to look for a larger cage but the big ones for ferrets had bar spacing that was too wide for the girls. I bought the bigger cage anyway and took a detour to the hardware store to get wire mesh to retrofit the cage for my ladies. One weekend later, they were introduced to their new penthouse complete with hammocks, a wheel, toys, and various other things that I had discovered during my adventures on the world wide web!
Long story shortened, I ended up using my previous cage when I took in a pair of males. I moved back in with my parents because I decided that I really didn’t like Chabot College and I transferred to Foothill College. I kept updating the site and taking in needy rats here and there. I got more cages, more rats, and a part time job at Pet Food Express in Redwood City for some extra money and for their employee discount! It was there that I was introduced to independent rescue through the dog and cat organizations that held adoption fairs in our store and brought in animals looking for homes on the weekend.
I spent time chatting with a few of them about all the rats that I had been taking in and they suggested that I try finding other people who might be interested in adopting rats from me and giving them permanent homes. Armed with some dog and cat examples, I handcrafted my own tri-fold poster board display, got permission from my manager to display it in the store, and I started bringing in some of the rats that were looking for homes. I carried them around in my apron which attracted lots of kids, questions, educational exchanges, and, eventually, even adoptions. This is ultimately how Rattie Ratz emerged from me wanting to help one rat from one family to basically having a life of its own.
As a person, I have compassion and a driving desire to help others. When people came to me asking me to take in their rat(s), I just couldn’t bring myself to say no. I soon realized that I really had too many to maintain by myself and I was conveniently presented a venue and an opportunity to rehome them. I seized that opportunity and Rattie Ratz basically evolved by itself. I met adopters who became friends, donors, volunteers, and foster homes. I had a donor who wanted Rattie Ratz to be a nonprofit so she bought me the Nolo book on how to start a nonprofit in California. It took me a year to complete all the paperwork while being a full-time college student and working part-time but I got it done. Our advanced ruling period for 501(c)3 status began on November 15, 2001 and Rattie Ratz has been growing and evolving ever since.