Supporting the rescuers/vetting a rescue center
I often see people saying things like 'I don't want my rats to go to a rescue center where they'll be ignored and never played with!' and as a hard working rat lover, it makes me angry to see that people sometimes have a negative view of rescues and sanctuaries. It seems almost like sometimes they are viewing rescuers as the bad guys! I always find it odd that someone who doesn't care enough about their rat to keep it is still ready to criticise those folk who step up to take on the responsibility for them.
While it is sadly true that there are some people calling themselves rescuers who are actually little more than hoarders, and who don't do things correctly, there are many more rescuers who excell at what they do and deserve to be respected for it, not condemned.
I have written about this to help anyone with a similar mind-set realise that there are wonderful rescues and sanctuaries in existance, and that in lots of cases, a rescue or sanctuary is the best place an unwanted rat can go! Why?:
1. People do not go into rescue for the hell of it, or because they like having enormous vet's bills and no money left for themselves. They go into it because they have a genuine passion for rats and their welfare. Anyone willing to devote their whole life to saving homeless, needy and unwanted rats has their best interests at heart. Therefore, why would they not look after them?
2. People do not tend to get into rescuing until they have a good few years of experience with rats. Some of the most informed and experienced rat owners in this country are rescuers, because they've been keeping rats a long time. Rescuers tend to be able to cope with anything a rat can throw at them, because they have experience with all kinds of things. If you have a rat who has behavioural issues, or needs medication for the rest of its life, you'll want it to go to a rescuer, ie, someone who can deal with this confidently and happily.
Im not saying casual rat owners can't, but it is simply fact that people who rescue and have a lot of rats have seen and experienced a lot of things, and they tend to be equipped for any occurance.
3. If a rat goes to a sanctuary, such as mine, you can be assured it will not end up homeless ever again. Rescuers either keep the rats themselves, or they home them on only to trusted, proven owners that they know will be devoted to the rat. Part of their job is being able to pick good owners. But if you choose to shun the rescues and their homing experience, can you be sure that your rats won't end up back up on an advert site for rehoming 2 months later?
4. Rescues and sanctuaries are equipped.
They often have a fair few rats, so they also tend to have lots of spare cages, lots of medications, a proper free range area, a long-term veterinarian who has been seeing their rats for years, and everything else a rat needs.
So you see, if you really want an experienced, knowlegable, well-prepared, devoted home for your rats, rescues and sanctuaries are actually a really good choice!
Every reputable rescuer I know treats their rats like family members, and they want for nothing. Just because someone may have 30 rats instead of 2, it doesn't mean they love them any less or give them any less attention. I can confidently say that I give my current group of 40 just as much love, attention and free range time as I did when I only had 5! The stereotype of an over-crowded, poorly run, filthy rescue center really is the exception in the world of rats.
Vetting a rescue center/weeding out the bad ones.
Unfortunately, it is a fact that the occasional crappy rescue center exists.
Though to be honest, I don't class these as rescues or sanctuaries as they are not helping the animals, and a lot of their rats would likely be no worse off if just left where they were in the first place. And thats sad.
To me, to deserve the title of a rescue or sanctuary, you have to be making the lives of the animals you rescue as good as they can be. If you are not doing this, you are not, in my personal opinion, a rescue or a sanctuary.
But how do you know a bad rescue/sanctuary from a good one? The answer is, quite easily really.
The things to watch for when checking out a rescue are much the same as when vetting a breeder. Whether you're surrendering your rat to them, or adopting one from them, keep these things in mind:
1. Go to the premises in person if at all possible. A reputable rescue/sanctuary will have no problem letting you check out the conditions and the resident rats.
2. Is it clean? Any rat owner knows they are not the tidiest animals on earth, especially when approaching clean out day! But Im not talking about a bit of strewn around newspaper or some baby food smeared over a shelf, or the occasional poo laying around; Im talking about bedding that is drenched and has not been changed in weeks, poo and wee mashed into shelves that have clearly never been scrubbed (rats do tend to poo on shelves, and they do tend to walk it in, so a little of this is acceptable, but if every shelf or igloo is rancid, thats not a good sign.) Similarly, check for smell.
Rats, particularly lots of rats in a small space, such as a shed or single room (which is where most rescues/sanctuaries will be) have a slight natural odour, even when spotlessly clean. If they're a day off clean-out day, it may be even more noticable, and again, thats normal. But if you walk in and it makes your eyes water just to be in the room, this is also not a good sign.
3. Are the rats over-crowded? Are the cages big enough? If you walk in and see 12 rats kept in a Jenny cage, or rats housed in tiny hamster cages, be warey. Sometimes, these are temporary measures, so it is best to ask if you're unsure.
I myself have been known to put the occasional elderly, unwell rat into a hamster cage for a few days if they need to be isolated, or are too unwell to deal with lots of movement. Rats that have just had surgery, or nursing mums may also be housed in small cages for a while. And for a temporary period, this isn't necessarily an issue. But if you see dozens of rats all in small cages, this can be a potential cause for concern, so be sure to ask questions.
4. How does the rescuer respond to the rats? Are they caring, gentle, affectionate? Or do they behave in a stand-offish or harsh way to any of the rats? Are they shouting at or physically reprimanding any of the rats just for being normal, curious rats? If so, be warey. Rescuers are generally a soppy, compassionate bunch who see our rats as our babies! Also look at how the rescuer handles their rats, avoid anyone who picks rats up by the tail, or scruff, or who seem uneasy about handling them. Most rescuers will have the occasional rat resident who is not as happy to be handled as the others, but the rescuer should generally be willing and able to confidently handle most of the rats.
5. How do the rats look in themselves? Are any of the rats ill/dying/lethargic/unhappy? Its important to be aware that rescues/sanctuaries often take in unwell rats, or the very elderly, or those who have suffered past abuse. Therefore, do not be surprised if some of the rats have wounds or medical issues, or are not behaviourally normal; there is a good chance that rat came into rescue that way and is being treated for these issues.
If you're concerned about the condition of a certain rat, just ask the rescuer. Most of us are happy to reel off the stories that go along with our rats and tell you where they came from and what issues they have. However, if the rescuer clams up, seems unsure, claims to have not even noticed the rat was ill, or else shrugs and grunts a 'I dunno' at you, steer well clear. A good rescuer should know individual details about each and every rat and be able to tell you these.
6. Do the rats have names? Now, this might just be a personal gripe, but I do get put off when a person has animals they do not name. In the grand scheme of things, it isn't of huge importance when compared to the other things listed. But I feel it does say something about the way they view their animals. Every good rescuer I know has names for every single rat they own, whether thats 10 or 50. Without names, its hard to view a rat as an individual personality, or to make it stand out in your mind from everyone else. As soon as a rat comes to me, and I intend to keep it, it is named. It does not feel like a member of my family without one.
Sometimes, rats that are up for rehoming may not have names as they are going to be moving on to a new owner. But if the rats are permanent residents, but the owner says none of them are named, I personally am put off; I feel it shows an odd attitude and suggests the animals are viewed more as 'stock' than as individuals.
These are just common sense guidelines. In my experience, you tend to know not long after walking into a place whether it is good or bad and whether the people are in it for the right reasons.
Having a lot of rats is no excuse to scrimp on their care.
If someone cannot care for a lot of rats, they do not need to have them. I have 43 rats currently, and keep up their standard of care 100%.
Rats deserve the very best, and if you feel a rescue/sanctuary is not doing their very best for their animals, steer clear, and perhaps tell a higher authority if you are really concerned.
Fortunately, though, bad rescues/sanctuaries are rare. Most rat lovers tend toward the obsessive when it comes to their pets, so care at these places tends to be second to none.
Do not discount rescue centers if you ever find you need to rehome your rat. Do not instantly assume they are all poorly run and the rats are not given any attention. This is simply not true. As with anything else in life, there are good examples, and bad examples. It is up to you to ensure you are happy with where your rats are going, or who you are adopting rats from.