Q&A with animal-care worker who rescued 59 rats from overrun Fruitport house

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jul 11, 2015 in Rat News | Subscribe

FRUITPORT TOWNSHIP, MI – By late May, domestic rats had overrun a home and animal rescue operation in Muskegon County, called the Critter Café Rescue.

Muskegon County Sheriff Animal Control officer Tiffany Peterson estimated the number of rats in the building at more than 1,000, and they continued to breed. Over a period of weeks, they were eventually caught and taken to shelters.

It was a huge job for a grassroots group, many of them volunteers, but somehow they did it. Fruitport Township officials and the owner of the house recently said the property is rat-free.

RELATED: Muskegon County landlord plans to fix house once overrun by 1K rats

One of those volunteers was Carrie Dunn of Yale Road Adoptables in Southeast Michigan. She traveled across the state to trap and rescue 59 rats – some of whom were pregnant at the time.

Dunn recently opened up to MLive Muskegon Chronicle about her work and the adoption process:

Can you describe your own rescue work? What sorts of animals do you take, and how many? How many years have you been doing this?

Carrie Dunn: “My rescue work started in 2012. I had had pet rats off and on since I was 16, and in 2011, decided I’d like to have more. I’d always had pet store animals, and never did much research about them beyond what the pet store told me the best feed and cage was. This time, though, I had done some research on the Internet and discovered there was a wealth of information available about these little creatures – and I was eager to learn. I also discovered there were such things as rat rescues, and while I had already purchased a pair of females, I made up my mind to adopt a few males, which I’d never had in the past. During my search for rescues I was put off by many of the adoption applications and contracts that were required by these facilities. (I work in the legal field and see the consequences of people entering into legally binding contracts they don’t fully understand. The idea of giving someone access to my home for a “surprise” home visit, for example, is out of the question.) It occurred to me that these terms might actually be preventing animals from finding homes, and I gradually began to think about starting my own. In April of 2012, I took in my first group with the intention of finding them new homes. I’ve been doing it ever since. I rescue mainly rats and degus, but have also taken in hamsters, mice, chinchillas, house rabbits, ASF rats, and a Richardson’s ground squirrel named Peanut.”

How did you hear about the rats that were rescued from the overrun rescue in Muskegon County. What was your first thought after hearing about it?

“There have always been discussion groups and Internet forums that have allowed rescues to network, and with the rise in popularity of Facebook, we are more in touch than ever – there is a very active, nation-wide network. Christine’s Critter Cafe was well known on the circuit, and I learned of the issues there in a Facebook posting. It didn’t take long to send a few messages and get more information. Situations like that tend to get a lot of attention very quickly. My first thought was to feel terrible for Christine Bishop. If she’d made the mistake of not reaching out for help, she’d surely paid dearly for that – she lost literally everything. My second thought was, what can I do for these rats?”

How many rats were you able to take, and how did you get them across the state?

“I was able to trap 59 rats at the Fruitport home with the help of Officer Chris Anderson, (may he live long and prosper), who didn’t know a thing about rats, but was willing to put in a pair of gloves and dive right in to help. I had brought plenty of spare cages along, and we baited with a little chicken baby food on a paper plate. We would lure the rats into small hamster cages, then transfer them to larger cages and bait the small ones again, catching them two and three at a time. We managed to gather that number in about 3 hours’ time – I would estimate there were probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 – 400 rats in and around the house all together. Transport was in the back of my Dodge Caliber – nothing fancy.”

What condition were they in when you got them?

All of the rats were immediately treated for parasites and given antibiotics to ward off any infections that might have been going on either from illness or injury. Most of the female rats were surprisingly healthy, though the diet of cat and dog food they were being fed to keep them near the house had begun to tell on them in that litters tended to be smaller than the average of 12, which is a good thing considering sheer numbers, but indicates less than optimum health for the moms. Males were in pretty rough shape – way too high a ratio of males to females in a given space for comfort and battles were clearly ongoing judging by the numerous injuries I saw. Females, of course, were most all expecting litters, with the last of mine being delivered last week.”

Where have they gone since?

“When I came to Fruitport I had commitments from other rescues for a total of 70 animals, (my intention was to keep 10 here). Since then, one rescue has kept its commitment, and one has kept part of theirs. Plans with the others have fallen through or are waiting for transportation to be arranged. I still have 33 adults and now close to 100 little ones in my care, in addition to the approximately 50 that were already here in rescue/sanctuary. The one rescue that kept their commitment is Critter Camp, an exotic animal sanctuary in German Valley, Illinois. Beth Randall runs it, and your readers might enjoy hearing about her organization. She took 15 males and 2 females (who have since whelped) from the Fruitport crew. Barb Lutman at Jaydas Critterhouse in Port Huron also took several expecting females and one male, I believe her total is around 39 at this point. I have adoptive homes for seven right now, plus a number of youngsters though a contact in Indiana – those should all be settled in the next two weeks. By that time, I’ll have many weaned and ready for new homes, and the push will begin in earnest to place them.”

Some of our readers at the Chronicle – and myself, if I’m honest – don’t understand the appeal of rats as pets. What are some of their better features that go overlooked?

“To understand rats, first you have to set aside everything you’ve ever heard or think you know about them – most of it is bunk. They aren’t anything like guinea pigs or mice or hamsters. They don’t carry plague and never did, (in fact, there are very few diseases rats can pass to people or other pets – and those are exotic and rare, you’re more likely to get rabies from your pet cat or dog). Rats are more akin to dogs, if you want to compare them to another pet. They are intelligent, affectionate and social, and need interaction with their people and other rats. You’d never think to put a puppy or kitten in a cage and just feed and water it – same with rats. Hamsters and mice couldn’t care less if you handle them – in fact, would prefer you didn’t. Not rats – they are a higher order of animal, a completely different class. They can learn their names, and complex tricks on command. They are exceedingly clean animals, grooming themselves more times in a given day than a cat. They are ideal pets for apartment dwellers with limited space, and make excellent therapy animals for individuals with anxiety issues because they bond so closely with their owners. The tail thing – what can I say? Rats use their tails for temperature regulation and counterbalance when climbing. It’s a tool they need. Some work has been done to breed a tail-less variety (manx rats), but the effort has been largely unsuccessful and met with a dim view from the fancy in general – it’s considered a genetic defect when naturally occurring.

“Interesting aside: there is a species of rat called Gambian pouched that’s doing important work in Africa detecting land mines and tuberculosis – check out Apopo HeroRATS.”

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