Rats find refuge rather than death in this Beach home – The Virginian

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jun 22, 2013 in Rat News | Subscribe

The Lucindas found in romance and fantasy and mystery novels are just what you’d expect.

There’s drama: “Brother Lucinda! I think you are a woman!” – “Lucinda: Retribution”

There’s ghostly: “Lucinda Sloan, psychic detective” – “Dead Before Dark”

In another vein, there’s hot and steamy: “?‘Lady Lucinda,’ he said, his voice low and husky.” – “The Devil in Disguise”

But for pure, unadulterated passion, it would be hard to top this:

“I never thought that I would love rats,” said Lucinda Rideout of Virginia Beach.

But, as usual, the unexpected happened.


She started small, literally.

In 2010, Lucinda and her husband, Jim, opened Saint Nicholas Mouse Rescue. The Rideouts were working their way down the proverbial food chain – about 20 years ago, when they moved to Virginia Beach “on a whim,” they brought 13 stray cats with them.

They had never intended to have a cat rescue. It was thrust upon them when the Rideouts were living in Hopewell during Desert Storm, and a lot of GIs were called up.

“All of a sudden there were cats everywhere, as though they had all been let loose,” Lucinda said. “They would come on the porch and ask for food and, of course, we couldn’t turn them away.”

As the cats passed on, the Rideouts scaled down, but they still loved animals. They have three elderly cats, but they don’t want any more long-lived pets, because she is 60 and he is 75. Looking on petfinder.com, she spotted a mouse for adoption.

“We were looking for mice to rescue,” she said. “I think it was just the feeling of something that we could do.”

In a cage at the Virginia Beach Animal Care and Adoption Center, Lucinda saw a small face.

Just like happens in books, their eyes met across a crowded room.


Lady Isabelle was a white mouse with ruby-red eyes.

“She was a very sweet little mouse,” Lucinda recalled. “She just looked very queenly. Royal. Whatever. She had a little sparkle to her like that.”

The first few mice came and went, as they do after 18 months to 2 years of life.

“A mouse lives such a short time, and if they’re in a cage and they’re not loved or taken care of, what a horrible existence,” Lucinda said. “That tugged at our hearts. We can provide something for them – peace and quiet and good food, and we can play with them.”

Here, it is worth noting that, yes, there are people who play with mice. There are also people who abandon mice and people who recklessly allow males and females to mingle, and thus become overwhelmed with baby mice.

As the Rideouts recognized the scale of the problem, they filed the paperwork to start a rescue and named it after the patron saint of Christmas, because people like Christmas, but also, they named it after a favorite mouse.

“We had a beautiful little mouse named Nicholas,” Lucinda said. “He was the finest mouse we ever had. He was saintly. He was white and his fur actually had gold patches. I’ve never seen a mouse so beautiful. He was smart and he was loving and he was an outstanding little boy.”

And then the plot turned, just like in an adventure story.


Animal Control had a rat that nobody wanted. Lucinda took it.

Arseny was a pink-eyed white, known in the fancy-rat community as a PEW. Fancy rats are domesticated versions of the common brown Norway rat, which, perhaps, nobody loves. But fancy rats have been bred – people who play with rats also play with rat genetics – to be docile and to have various coat colors and patterns.

At rat shows there are categories for standard (short, smooth, glossy hair), rex (curly hair and whiskers), tailless (self-explanatory), hairless (ditto), satin (thinner, longer coat with a lustrous sheen), and dumbo (big ears, set on side of head).

There are also colors. The website of Britain’s National Fancy Rat Society describes as acceptable in shows the pink-eyed white (to be as white as possible), champagne (evenly warm beige), buff (even, warm magnolia), British blue (deep steel blue), black (deep, solid black), chocolate (deep, rich chocolate), mink (even mid-gray brown), ivory (very pale creamy white), and platinum (pale gray with a distinct ice-blue hue).

That doesn’t even begin to touch on the patterned coats, which include Berkshire, Essex, Irish, blaze, dalmatian, hooded, bareback, capped and masked.

Like people who choose vanilla from a freezer case of 48 flavors, Lucinda loved the plain white rat. And she soon discovered that rats themselves fancy two things.

“They like Mozart, for some reason,” she said, speculating that it is because the music is light and played in the higher ranges. “They get happy.”

The other thing? Attention.

Although the mice are content living upstairs in a quiet room with little foot traffic, the 20 rats now living with the Rideouts have cages in the living room.

“Rats require stimulation like music or TV or people playing with them,” Lucinda said. “They get bored very easily. They’re like little dogs.”

Unlike dogs, they don’t need to be walked, they don’t bark, and their messes are much smaller.

“They’re for people like me,” she said. “I can no longer take care of a big dog. I can barely lift our cats because of disability, but I can carry around a little mouse or rat. They become my little cats and dogs.”


When Lucinda was young, she was not allowed pets. “I had guppies,” she said, “but what can you do with a guppy?”

She has a degree in library science and works as a microfilm technician doing archival work for the city of Norfolk, scanning and microfilming and preserving the city’s history. She’s working now on electronic preservation of paper documents from the 1960s.

“It’s so fascinating,” she said. “I have touched letters by (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur, Kennedy, LBJ, touched them with my hands. They’re like little golden treasures.”

Her day job leaves her nights free, which is perfect, because her animals tend to be nocturnal.

“At night, this place rocks and rolls,” Lucinda said. Little exercise wheels spin, little feet scamper and, after dinner, there’s the rat chair.

The Rideouts have one special chair that the rats, two at a time, are allowed to climb around on. One of the Rideouts is usually sitting in the rat chair, watching TV. Lucinda likes the old shows; “I Dream of Jeannie” is a favorite. The rats like it, too, she said.

“I never thought that I would love rats,” she said, “but you put them in your arms and hold them and they give you kisses.”


As time passed, Lucinda was asked to take in hamsters and ferrets and gerbils, too, keeping the unadoptable and fostering babies until they are old enough for new homes.

The hamsters live upstairs in the mouse room, but the ferrets are in the living room. Another furry white animal presides over the room from a framed poster print bearing the descriptive legend “Cats.”

When the ferrets arrived, they were neither furry nor especially white. They were bald, from adrenal disease.

With an implant under the skin, the ferrets are now furry and active. They have little hammocks to sleep in.

“Nothing,” Lucinda said, “is more beautiful than a sleeping ferret.”

Jim had to be sold on them, though. He noted that, over the years, his wife has honed her technique for reeling in adoptive families.

“She says, ‘Would you like to hold one?’?” Jim explained, laughing. “She had me hold a ferret. I thought they were just weasels until I held one.”

He cuddled a rat as he spoke. “She likes Daddy’s shoulder now,” he said.

At one time, Jim had a rat named Daddy’s Darling. The rat came to St. Nicholas because she bit people and was considered unadoptable.

“He worked with her a lot because he wanted a rat of his own,” Lucinda said. “I made a pouch, like a purse, so he could carry her around with him. That’s a way of bonding with your rat. If you’re into the ratty scene, people do carry their rats around in purses or scarves or tucked in their blouse or in a big pocket. The animals like this closeness.”

Most people, when they think about pet rats, remember Ben and Willard, from the movies. Mice have better p.r. – consider Mickey Mouse. Still, he’s got nothing on Lucinda’s.


The literary Lucinda appears in forms as varied as romantic beauties (“The Secret Life of Lady Lucinda”), a sci-fi jewel thief (“Instead of a Loving Heart”) and eccentric aunties (“The Spiderwick Chronicles”), the latter of which contains the memorable quote: “Mom told you not to bring the mice,” Mallory said. “She said you could have normal animals now.”

The rodent-rescuing Lucinda is also literary. She writes a column for the magazine Pet Tails, and on the wall of the mouse room is a framed document declaring copyright on her first children’s story, about a church mouse.

She’s working with an illustrator on a book about a baby rat that shouldn’t be out alone, as the other rats warn it. She calls it “Get That Rat!”

“I have been working as part of a long-term goal,” Lucinda said, “to promote rodents and rats and tell people that they’re sweet; they’re not these vicious animals that you see in horror movies.”

She writes, surrounded by little furry animals that have been rescued from their own horrible stories – abandonment in boxes on street corners or in dumpsters, tossed over fences into dog pens, mistreated.

One rat, she said, was so frightened by previous abuse that it would not come out of its sleeping quarters to eat. Its partner carried food to it, until the Rideouts won its trust. Ping and Pong enjoy the rat chair now, and Mozart, and vintage TV shows.

“People are just throwing these animals out like trash,” Lucinda said. “Almost everything we take in has been slated for euthanization. That’s the motivation to take them.”

All this love and attention is not cheap. Food costs $150 a month, and such things as bedding, toys and vitamins cost another $100. In January, the Rideouts spent $1,673 on medical expenses for the animals. In February, the cost dropped to $400, but in March it was $2,079.

“What is the cost of love?” Lucinda wrote in a Pet Tails column. “It has no price.”

The animals are the couple’s entertainment, she said, and instead of spending money on cruises and cable, they spend it on rats and mice and ferrets and hamsters, loving what most people – despite “Stuart Little” and “Wind in the Willows” – consider unlovable.

What a novel idea.

Diane Tennant, 757-446-2478, diane.tennant@pilotonline.com




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