At adoption fair, image is pet peeve for fans of rats, pigeons

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jul 19, 2014 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

Of the hundreds of people who visited Jack London Square on Saturday, many hoped to adopt a cuddly animal with soft fur, ears to scratch and a belly to rub.

Like a rat?

“No!” cried Bea Pirnia, 5, who was patting a bunny. “I just don’t want it!”

And yet, said the rat lovers who had brought cages of them to the SPCA’s huge Adopt-a-Thon in hopes of finding happy homes for the weighty rodents, what could be softer, kindlier and more attentive than a rat?

Vanilla was a case in point. Perched on the shoulder of Elsa Glembotzki, 26, a volunteer with Rattie Ratz Rescue in Clayton, Vanilla the rat crawled across Glembotzki’s neck, his naked tail trailing 10 inches and his knife-like incisors tucked demurely beneath furry cheeks. Vanilla kept his nose in constant motion, like a vibrating eraser on a tiny pencil.

“Most people don’t realize it, but you can adopt rats,” Glembotzki said. “It’s a thing! They have a bad rap, but that’s starting to dissipate.”

Some rats are heroes. In Africa, they’ve been trained to locate land mines. Too light to trigger an explosion, they have helped humans clear thousands of mines. Others sniff out tuberculosis in spit.

“Rats are awesome,” said Jenn Paz, 42, of Coastside Cavy in Pacifica, a haven for small mammals.

“We’re actually looking for a dog,” said Brandi Hallett, 28, of Richmond. But she and her sweetheart, Jack Husting, 26, were drawn to the rat cage, made homier with doll furniture by Paz and Debra Mendelsohn, whose motto at the Animal Care and Adoption Network in San Rafael is “Rats … to know ’em is to love ’em!”

“I take special-needs rats,” she said. “The rats that shelters would otherwise euthanize.”

Not every troubled rat may win a chance to join your family, despite rehabilitative sorcery from Mendelsohn and Paz. But some, like Tabitha, learn fast.

Neglected and unsocialized, this gray and white rattus rattus bit aggressively – which rat cognoscenti know is not typical behavior for the sleek creatures.

“She was mean,” Paz said.

So Paz took Tabitha and handled her constantly, feeding her by hand and earning her trust. Now about 8 months, Tabitha is calmer, socialized and happy to crawl between Paz’s fingers or be held in a comforting cloth bag.

“I think rats are very sweet,” said 15-year-old Katherine Madsen of Denmark, gazing at Tabitha.

Near the rats were animals once famously described as “rats with wings” by Herb Caen, the late Chronicle columnist.

“Pigeons are exploited a lot – they’re used for meat, racing, magic shows,” said Elizabeth Young of MickaCoo Pigeon Dove Rescue in San Francisco as she held Sugar, a white pigeon in a red diaper.

Sugar was born with splayed legs – spread horizontally so she couldn’t stand up, said Young, who worked with an avian vet to realign them.

“Now she’s fantastic!” Young said as the white pigeon – not a dove – strutted on her palm, ignoring the indignity of her pigeon Pampers.

Like rats, which must be adopted two at a time to avoid loneliness and misery, there are special considerations when adopting pigeons. Young doesn’t just give them away to anyone who coos appreciatively. She makes a home visit to ensure proper care.

She places about 150 birds a year, but her rescue site is always full.

It’s not known how many rats are placed in loving homes. By Saturday morning, just one family had taken a pair home.

Where to adopt

People looking to adopt rats and pigeons can call:

— Animal Care and Adoption Network, San Rafael: (415) 516-6928;

— Coastside Cavy, Pacifica: (650) 242-2096

— Rattie Ratz Rescue, Resource and Referral, Clayton: (925) 382-6138

— MickaCoo Pigeon Dove Rescue, San Francisco: (415) 420-7204

Nanette Asimov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @NanetteAsimov

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