Pet rats are just like dogs, only smaller. At least they are according to Charmaine Benson.
“I’ve basically heard everybody’s reason for not liking a rat but everybody has their own love in life and some people love dogs and some love cats and I happen to love rats,” she said.
For the last eight years Benson has run Charming Rat Rescue out of her house in Regina. Growing up her parents kept pet rats, so it was only fitting as an adult she would want her own.
“I started to see a need for people to have a home for their rats, whether it was the landlord wouldn’t allow them any longer or they just found that they were more than they could care for at the time and so I started helping them out,” she said.
Benson will have people with rats they can’t keep any more reach out to her on Facebook and also her veterinarian will refer people to her.
Domestic rats have a lifespan of only two to three years and are different than wild rats, Benson said. The wild has been bred out of them in labs and they do not carry diseases they can pass on to humans. Domestic rats can suffer from mycoplasma, a disease that affects their breathing, but they cannot pass it on to anyone else.
Benson works a full time job, but the rat rescue is like having a second one. She normally has 100 rats in her care — they are colony animals and like to be kept in groups together.
Currently Benson has 20 cages that require regular cleaning. Once a month she does a full cleaning of the cages and during the week she changes the blankets in them.
Rats also require a lot of love and attention. Whenever Benson is home she’ll make sure to have a rat out and playing with it.
“They’re not a hamster, they can’t just stay in their cage without any kind of interaction. They really need the attention from you,” she said.
Benson tries to find homes for all the rats that come into her care. When people reach out to her wanting to adopt a rat they have to go through an application process which includes filling out an application and paying a $20 adoption fee, which is in place to deter people who want the rats as feed for other animals.
“I like if (potential rat parents) are older. I don’t think pet rats do well with children because they’re very delicate,” Benson said.
Benson also allows home visits. If people are curious about rats she will let them come and hang out at her house with the rats to learn more about them.
Benson isn’t the only rat rescue in the province. Recently Rainbow Rat Rescue in Saskatoon opened.