Adoption-worthy rats — 30 of them — get spayed and neutered by veterinary …

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Apr 23, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

It had all the makings of one big medical melodrama:

Thirty-five Foothill College veterinary-tech students with syringes full of painkillers.

Four freshly scrubbed and scalpel-ready surgeons.

And 30 domesticated rats, sitting there Sunday morning in a campus lab with no idea how bad their days were about to go.

“It was my idea to spay and neuter them so they’d make better candidates for adoption,” says Sandy Gregory, the instructor running the all-day show. “You have a lot of groups spaying and neutering dogs and cats, like Fix Our Ferals, but there’s nobody out there for the rats. Rats get a bad rap as being dirty and attacking people in horror films. But they’re just the opposite; they’re incredibly sweet, social and very smart.”

The caged patients Sunday are one of the last batches of about 1,500 rats rescued from a hoarder’s house in Southern California. The owner had taken in a few pet rats at first, but things spun out of control. Not hard to do, says Gregory, when rats can get pregnant within days of giving birth, produce a new batch of offspring in 26 days, and sport litters averaging between eight and 12 babies. After eating most of the homeowner’s furniture and hollowing out the Sheetrock in his walls, the rats appeared on a 2010 segment of the AE program “Hoarders,” which is when Cynthia Cross, director of Bay Area-based North Star Rescue, stepped in. Most of the rats have been adopted and many have been spayed or


“If they’re aggressive, we put them in these cages marked ‘W’ for ‘watch out,” says Cross, pointing to a row of cages filled with the clueless rodents bound for the surgical room over in the corner. “But especially with the males, once they’re spayed they mellow out immediately.”

Improving behavior

The students break into teams of three, each shepherding an assigned rat through the 45-minute process: weigh them, calculate the amount of pre-op pain medication they’ll need, administer it with a syringe squirt below the fur, give them oxygen and then anesthesia while they’re squeezed into a glass cone, surgically prep them by trimming around the genitals, then carry them into surgery.

“Unlike other animals, rats don’t vomit, so when they wake up, we give them a bit of banana, and if they eat it, that’s a good sign that they’re pretty much back to normal,” said Nat Smith, 32, a friendly vet-tech in training, as he puts two red-marker bands on the tail of his team’s first rat of the day, nicknamed Big Red Two. “This isn’t just about population control, either. Spaying and neutering improves their behavior and helps them have fewer health issues as they get older.”

Team members Stefania DiCicco and Katie Moyer, both 29 and from San Francisco, stand ready. Moyer uses a calculator to figure out how much Butorphanol and Midazolam that Big Red will need — “a smidgen of each,” she concludes. Then DiCicco jabs a syringe into a roll of Red’s furry fat. After a couple of anxious moments in which the patient resists the needle’s stab, Red is soon chillin’ on the back of Smith’s tattooed neck.

“I’m sorry I had to do that to you, little buddy,” DiCicco says to Red. She says “I can hear him calling for his friends. He’s like, ‘What’s happening? Why am I here?’ “

As they wrap him in a blue bath towel, Moyer says “That’s the hardest part; you’re hurting these guys who you care so much about.”

The operation

Red is whisked to the other side of the room, placed gently inside the cone containing tube-fed oxygen and then, gradually, the sleepy-time gas. Red suddenly melts into a blubbery blob of rodent love. Smith, a soft-spoken bear of a transgender who prefers to be referred to as “s/he” in print, softly applies lube into Red’s eyes to prevent them from drying out in surgery. While Moyer baby-talks her now-unconscious patient, and Smith explains that rats have “the largest testicles, relative to body size, of any mammal,” the attending surgeon, Dr. Ashley Zehnder, awaits Red’s arrival.

For 20 minutes, Red lays there on the operating table, making the next-to-greatest sacrifice for ratkind, while Smith and his colleagues monitor the patient’s respiratory and heart rates, looking for signs of possible distress. At 230 beats a minute, Red’s heartbeat, if anything, is a bit slower than normal, which is a good thing.

“That’s a good-looking testicle,” someone says as Zehnder make a couple of artistic slices. A few sutures, a little bit of skin glue and Red is good to go.

At 11:04 a.m., minutes after the final stitch is sewn, Red stretches his studlike body — no matter the procedure. And then, hearing Moyer beckoning him with “Wakey-wake!” he lifts his head to check out the scene.

“Where am I?” Moyer imagines Red saying. “And where did my testicles go?”

Come on, says DiCicco as he grabs a nearby banana, “let’s get some nanners into you, love bug.”

Red devours the fruit.

And that, says Smith, “is a very good sign.”

Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689 or follow him at patmaymerc on Twitter.

Adoption option

If you’re interested in adopting one of these rescue rats, visit North Star Rescue’s website at and click on “Rat Hoarding Case.” Rats can be adopted from several sites, including Andy’s Pet Shop, 51 Notre Dame Ave., San Jose.

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