American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the Summer 2000 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Rodent Rescue

By Nichole Royer

* Rodents are considered ”disposable pets.”

* Rescues are made up of Mostly unplanned/ unwanted litters.

* It is the breeder’s responsibility to see that the rats or mice they produced find homes.

* Rescuers need to carefully screen potential adoptees to see that the animals end up in suitable homes.

* Rescue is as much as finding wonderful homes as it is in dealing with the unplaceable animals.

* AFRMA has an informal network of fanciers who take in rescues.

It’s a sad fact of life. There are more animals in this world than there are good homes. Many owners are irresponsible or unwilling to properly care for their pets.

This dilemma is not just faced by dogs and cats. A considerable number of rat and mouse owners view their pets as “disposable.” After all, the rat did not cost much money. “Why should I care,” is an often seen response.

Thankfully there are many rodent enthusiasts out there who worry about these animals. Though AFRMA does not have a formal rescue “organization,” just about every fancier I know has either taken in and kept, or re-homed a little waif that is in need.

Why do people get rid of their rats and mice

Though each situation is different, most cases of people wanting to get rid of their critters fit into rather specific situations. The most common is a person who has a litter of babies they want to get rid of. Often, these folks have purposely bred their rat or mouse (with no thought to where the babies would go) or had an accidental breeding, and don’t want to take the babies to the pet shop since they are likely to end up as snake food. Many other litters are produced from females who were purchased at pet stores and unbeknownst to their new owners, were already pregnant.

Older animals often find themselves looking for new homes when their owners move (apparently taking that cage along is just “too much trouble”). Others find themselves, or their kids, growing allergic to the animals over time. Some rats and mice are gotten as part of a school project or science experiment, and when it is over, they are disposed of (what a great lesson to teach kids, don’t you think?).

And what is the number one reason people get rid of their rats or mice? It’s quite simple, and I hear it all the time. “We got tired of them,” they say. Or “the kids lost interest.” Sometimes it’s “they smell,” “the kids don’t clean their cage,” or “they make a mess.” To put it quite simply, the novelty has worn off so they want the rat or mouse to disappear.

Where do they go?

Many of these animals are simply dropped off at the local pet store. I imagine a few find homes, but most end up as lunch for some snake.

Some people turn loose their unwanted pets. In the case of our domestic rodents, this often means a slow death through starvation/dehydration.

A few people do try to be responsible for their pets. Often these folks have a fairly good reason for needing to find new homes for their pets. As with other animals, the humane society will take both rats and mice. Unfortunately, many humane societies simply euthanize all rodents that come in since they do not have the proper facilities to house and care for them. Recently, there has been a very happy trend and many more humane societies are taking in and placing the small pets, including hamsters, rats, and mice.

And then, of course, there is us. Many folks happen across rat and mouse fanciers on accident, at a display or on the Internet. Usually, their assumption is the same—for some reason us fanciers not only will take, but want their rats and mice. I have actually had calls from out-of-state folks who become upset that I won’t come get their animals.

Though AFRMA is not a rescue organization, and we don’t have any formal rescue program, many fanciers will take in the occasional rat or mouse and either keep it or place it. This informal network of fanciers has helped a multitude of rats and mice over the years. AFRMA members are welcome to take rescues to shows in an attempt to find them homes, and often a place can be found for them in displays. We even have an event at the American Family Pet Expo where we have a rescue booth and adopt out animals.

Before Getting Involved

It is very important to think things out before getting involved in rescue. Often, people start taking in animals, find themselves overwhelmed, and the animals end up in the same situation they were in to begin with.

Taking in rescue animals requires some pre-planning. First, do you have the time and money to take in additional animals and house them for an indeterminate period of time? Rescued animals have enormous potential for bringing in parasites and diseases that could have a devastating effect on your own animals. Do you have a location to totally isolate them from your own critters? Do you have adequate spare cages?

Before beginning to take in animals, it’s a good idea to think about what situations you will and will not accept animals. It’s very surprising what people will expect you to do when they have animals they no longer want. Often, they do not want to bring the animals to you. Are you willing to drive an hour to pick them up? Four hours? To another state? How many animals can you accommodate yourself? Do you have situations where you can find the animals new homes, or does taking in rescues involve their permanent placement with you? Do you plan on taking in any animal regardless of situation? Are there situations from which you do not feel able to accept animals?

It is entirely acceptable when doing rescue to establish specific guidelines before taking in animals. These guidelines can be as general or specific as you feel you need, and are usually used to prevent you, the rescuer, from being put in an unfortunate situation. Everyone who does rescue will have a different set of guidelines to fit their specific situation. The following is an example and should in no way be considered a recommendation.

Guidelines for Accepting Rats and Mice into Rescue

  1. Animals being mass produced for the commercial pet industry, those being bred in large quantities by irresponsible individuals, or those produced by fanciers who then are unable to place the babies, will not be taken into rescue. It is the breeder’s responsibility to see that their rats or mice are placed in good homes.
  2. All rats and mice taken in must be in good health, have good temperaments, and be adoptable. Unplaceable animals will not be accepted.
  3. Owners must permanently surrender their rat or mouse’s cage at the time their animal is turned over to the rescuer (this prevents them from going out and acquiring more animals in a couple of months, only to eventually turn them into rescue as well).
  4. A $5–$10 donation shall be strongly encouraged to cover the cost of maintaining the animal until it can be placed.

Placing Rescue Rats and Mice

Finding rescued rats and mice fantastic new homes can be one of the most rewarding things you can do. Often, the people who adopt the animals take great pride in the fact that they took in an orphan, and in many cases they take exemplary care of their pets.

There are those people, however, who do not make good potential adopters. It is the job of the rescuer to weed out the good from the bad and see that the animals end up in suitable homes.

The best way to do this is to sit down and talk to the potential adoptee, find out if they have owned rats/mice before, and what their experiences have been. If they have never owned a rat/mouse before, have they done the research and know how to care for them?

Gut instinct is often the most valuable tool for the rescuer. If you don’t feel completely comfortable handing over the critter, suggest a few days to “think about it.” Having to come back a second time will weed out the “impulse” adopters from the serious ones.

Adoption Fees

Another very important thing to always do when you place a rat or mouse is to charge an adopting fee. While this fee can go a long way towards covering the cost of caring for the animals in rescue, it has a much more important function.

Quite simply—People value that which they had to pay for more than that which they are given for free. The animals will be better cared for and held in higher regard if they cost something. The willingness to pay for the animal is a good sign of how much the recipient really wants it. In addition, some people will go so far as to outright lie to get free “feeders” for their reptiles.

Adoption fees don’t have to be large. Typically, $5–$10 for rats and $3–$5 for mice are adequate. This far exceeds the price of rats and mice from a pet shop, so you can feel fairly confident that the people really want the animals.

The Down Side of Rescues

As with all things, there is a definite down side to doing rescue. Thanks to the irresponsible breeding involved in supplying pet shops, rescue is often being asked to pick up the pieces. Sometimes there is nothing rescue can do.

Some cases are just unrealistic for rescue to handle. A rat who has viciously attacked a number of people so severely that they needed stitches, clearly has a temperament unsuitable for placement and could be a great liability. Animals that are extremely ill, need extensive veterinary treatment, or are in need of continuous medical care would put a great burden on most rescue organizations.

It is, of course, up to the individual rescuer which animals they are willing to take in, and which they are not. There comes a point, however, where the realization hits that taking in a particular unplaceable animal will mean that numerous young, healthy, placeable animals will have to be turned away. This is one of the most difficult decisions a rescuer will ever have to face, and for which there is no easy answer.

Some Final Thoughts

Rescue is one of the most rewarding things we can do, and also one of the most difficult. Wonderful, happy stories abound about rescue and they tend to encourage folks to get involved. While this is a great thing, often those new to rescue run into heartbreaking difficulties and give up because they were unprepared and no one thought to forewarn them. That being said, let me share with you a rescue story.

Every Saturday there is a livestock auction near my home. One day, two rats were included in this auction. By chance, before bidding started, I happened to overhear the gentleman selling the rats comment that if he couldn’t get rid of them he would turn them loose on the way home (I live in the desert and this was July).

Naturally, I bid on the rats. After standing in line for 45 minutes to pay my $2, I finally got to take a good look at them. I’m sad to say, their condition didn’t surprise me.

The smallest appeared to be about 3 weeks old. He was totally limp, cold, and in truth, I don’t think he was conscious. The other was a young adult showing major signs of the SDA virus. Swollen eyes and glands under the chin, gasping for breath, blue feet and tail, and was screeching and turning around the box in panic. It was not a pretty picture.

I rushed the two of them home, gave them a few moments of probably the only loving they ever had, and then gave the greatest gift I could give. Their lives ended quietly and painlessly with soft words and gentle pets.

Yes, this is what rescue is about—every bit as much as finding wonderful homes for needy rats and mice. (Not the norm, thank goodness, but the kind of thing you have to be prepared for none the less.) *

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Updated April 21, 2014