Recently, the popular way to find a new home for an animal you can no longer keep has been 'free ad' sites, where you can advertise your animal for free and wait for the responses to roll in.
These sites can be a useful tool for finding the right home for your pet, and indeed, I've gotten several of my rats from these sites, as well as having many people become aware of my existence via my own advert.
Some of the rats I've had from these sites have been in very unsuitable conditions, and were it not for the existence of these sites, I likely would never have known about them, so where would they have ended up then?
So I do think these sites can be a good thing, if used properly.
However, there is one huge issue with these free-ad sites when it comes to rehoming rats specifically. And that issue is snake owners.
I have been informed about several cases recently where snake owners have attempted to get rats that are advertised as 'free to a good home' so they can use them for snake food.
I have been informed about several incidents like this recently by rat owners trying to home their pets, and there are probably many more that I just don't hear about.
It seems that since the rise in popularity of free-ad sites, snake owners are finding lots of 'free to good home' rats right at their finger-tips.
And they will try and obtain these rats, not just to use as food for their snakes, but to use as breeding stock to create babies to feed to snakes.
In fact, my rats Dante, Broadway, Subway, and Boston were originally advertised as 'free to good home' and the owner did indeed have a reptile owner ask if he could have them.
Sometimes they will be completely up front and frank about it and state that they want the rats for snake food.
Other times, they will lie and pretend to be a caring rat lover who wants a nice pet. You simply cannot be too careful about who you re-home your rat to. These people have no respect for rats, and see them only as food, so they don't see a problem in taking on free rats and killing them. They don't even think they're doing anything wrong, as proven by an angry mail I recieved from one snake owner defending his 'right' to feed his snake and to take people's loved pets to do it.
So what can you do to ensure your rats don't end up in the hands of these monsters?
Below are a few steps you can take to protect your rats. If at all possible, avoid putting your rats on these sites to begin with, try to seek out local animal rescues or private rat rescues first via internet searches. If you are unable to find such a place, and you must use a site like Gumtree or Preloved, follow these tips to help ensure your rat goes to the home it deserves:
1. Charge a fee
Do not offer your rats as 'free to good home'; always ask for an adoption fee.
Snake owners like to take the free rats; they don't want to actually spend any money if they don't have to. Asking for money for your rat will deter snake owners. Someone is far less likely to target your rat if they have to pay for it. I would say a adoption fee shoud be at least £10 per rat. Anyone who genuinely wants the rat as a pet will not mind paying a fee. If someone does not wish to pay any money for the rat, you have to ask yourself why. If they cannot afford a £10 adoption fee, how will they afford vet bills, which can be many times that amount?
2. Vet potential adopters carefully.
Anyone enquiring about your rat should show interest, ask questions, tell you about themselves, tell you their rat owning history, etc. Be wary of anyone who mails you with one line emails, or who doesn't ask any questions. If someone is genuine, and wants your rat as a new family member, they will put more time in than just a simple one-line email. If someone isn't interested in your rat's personality, his history, and doesn't bother telling you anything about themselves, that would suggest someone who isn't overly bothered about your rat.
I've been rescuing a long time now, and there is a huge difference between the enquiries I get from genuine rat lovers, and those from people who are enquiring on a whim, or want the rats for less ethical reasons. Genuine rat lovers will mail with lots of information about themselves, about their rat care methods, their rat experience, what rats they already have (if any), how they got into rats, why they love rats, and why they think they are the best home for your rat.
If someone doesn't take the time to do this, it rings alarm bells.
3. Home check if possible
If at all possible, go to the house of the person enquiring about your rat. Ask to see their set up, meet their existing rats, have a chat with them face to face. This is one of the best ways of filtering out those with bad intentions. Most snake owners who are enquiring about rats with the intention of using them as food will bow out if a home check is requested. Its just not worth the bother, to them, for the sake of one meal for their snake. They rely on people to ask no questions, meet somewhere neutral and hand the rat over.
If someone is uncomfortable with a home check, this would ring alarm bells, for me. If you have nothing to hide, you would have no issues with someone wanting to check out your set-up for your rats. Most genuine animal lovers completely understand why home checks are done.
Home checks are never fail-safe, though. Some people will go to great lengths to fool you. I've even known people give the address of a friend's residence, and try to fool the rat owner into thinking thats where they live, or to hide up certain things in their home while you're there so you don't see them.
But in general, this is all too much hard work for someone just looking for a rat to feed to their snake. So requesting a home check, even if you have no intention of following through with one, is often enough to send snake owners packing.
Simply, be alert and use common sense!
If someone wants your rat for free, asks no questions about your animal, gives you no info on themselves, does not want you to come to their house, asks to meet at somewhere like a petrol station rather than at their home, be extremely warey.
Many people genuinely don't realise the severity of the issue with rats on free ad sites. I will occasionally search these sites, and upon finding 'free to good home' rats, contact the owners to warn them about where their rats might end up, and they are shocked.
I've also had my fair share of angry snake owners whining that they have every right to feed their snake.
That is not the issue.
The issue is that they are using deception to obtain someone's loved pet in order to do so. If they felt there was nothing wrong with what they were doing, they would be upfront with the rat owner and tell them exactly what they intend to do with the rat.
But most don't. They lie, they do not tell the owner they want the rat as food, they pose as genuine rat lovers.
After many years doing this work, I can tell within quite a short time frame whether someone is a true rat lover, or a scum bag looking for a free meal for their snake. If you are at all unsure about someone, send them packing. It is your rat, and your right to turn away anyone you don't feel is suitable.
One thing I have learned is to trust my gut. It has never let me down thus far.