Rescue roster: North Star Rescue

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Nov 4, 2015 in Rat News | Subscribe

Emoting empathy for animals is a sign of a well-adjusted individual who is more likely to feel compassion for other people, too. Hence, children who have a deep rooted caring for animals are likely to grow up to become better citizens and this reflects favorably on society as a whole. Due to the importance of enabling young children to connect with animals, it is equally important that they learn about modern day animal issues and the rescue organizations that are dedicated to helping other species.

This adorable chinchilla was one of North Star's rescues.

North Star Rescue is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to the welfare of small companion animals. North Star is the only rescue organization in the San Francisco Bay Area specifically dedicated to all species of pet rodents and rabbits. North Star Rescue provides a variety of services to help small companion animals, including: Rescue and Foster Services for California Shelters, Public Adoptions of Small Animals, Behavioral Advice, Educational Events and More. Unlike a traditional shelter, North Star Rescue has no central location. They are a network of foster homes run by dedicated volunteers who have united under the common goal of keeping small animals from being euthanized when they have nowhere else to go.

Lauren Paul is the founder of North Star Rescue, a non-profit organization based in California’s San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to the rescue and welfare of pet rodents. Lauren currently works with North Star Rescue as the Co-Executive Director and Director of Technology from her home in Sedalia, Missouri, where she also operates Alma Rodentia, a blog dedicated to rodents, rescue and home to a small animal product store. Recently, Lauren spoke to the Examiner about her experiences running a rescue.

Meagan Meehan (M.M.): How and when did you decide to start North Star Rescue and why was that specific name chosen?

Lauren Paul (L.P.): The rescue was a personal project of mine starting in 2005, when I took in a small number of animals and adopted them out in to new homes on my own, but it was in 2006 that I really decided to try and build a larger rescue organization. I picked up the paper one day and saw an article that a man had been found hoarding pet rats in Petaluma, CA, and had been found with around 1,000 rats in his home. I drove up the next day to the shelter and saw that although hundreds of rats had been confiscated, there was just one cage of young rats out on the adoption floor. I talked with one of the volunteers at the shelter about the case and what was going to happen to all of the rats that weren’t up for adoption yet, and she told me that the majority of them would likely be euthanized. She told me that it was a sad situation, because there just weren’t rescues out there for rats like there were for cats and dogs. Since I also wasn’t a rescuer with a legitimate group, they could only release a pair of rats to me as an adopter, so I took a pair of rats from the case home with me and started planning on how I could help on a larger scale. I chose the name North Star Rescue because Polaris, the North Star, is known for helping guide lost travelers home. Over the next few years, I started to build up a more serious program and in 2008 my group got its official non-profit status.

M.M.: What kinds of animals does your organization rescue?

L.P.: North Star Rescue currently works with pet rodents that are legal to own in the state of California. We are best known for rats, but we also work with guinea pigs, hamsters, mice and chinchillas. While we offer advice on issues with wild rodents, such as humane removal methods and rodent-proofing for home owners finding themselves sharing their roof with unexpected roommates, we only work with domestic rodents and rely on wildlife rescues to assist with other issues involving wild rats and mice.

M.M.: So far, how many animals have been rescued via the efforts of North Star Rescue and which creature was the most unusual?

L.P.: North Star Rescue has been operating for about ten years now and we’ve taken in and adopted out over 4,000 animals. It’s hard to say what is the most unusual case, there’s been quite a few over the years! We’ve had a number of unusual medical cases, and we’ve thankfully had some amazing veterinarians to support us in helping get them on the road to recovery. When you’ve seen this many animals, you tend to see even the strangest situations come up more than once, but I can say to my knowledge we’ve only ever taken in one dwarf hamster with narcolepsy. He stumped all of us for quite a while by falling asleep suddenly when he was running in his wheel, strolling across the cage, or even just sitting in your hand. He went on an extended stay with one of our vets for observation before he came back with a diagnosis of narcolepsy. Thankfully he still had a great quality of life and went home with a fantastic lady who drove halfway across the state to get him after hearing his story. We had a nice lady contact us once to help with a stray hamster she found running loose in a busy road, she had caught him and asked if she could bring him to us at one of our adoption events. She even went so far as to take the hamster to the vet to have it checked up before bringing to us, the vet told her that it was healthy, female and not pregnant during their visit. When she arrived at our event with her rescue in a colorful hamster cage, I swept the bedding off of her to find that she was actually a wild pocket gopher and not a hamster at all! We wound up re-releasing her into a safer habitat than the busy street where she was found.

M.M.: What have your experiences running a rescue been like?

L.P.: My experiences have been many and varied, but on the whole, it has been a positive experience. The experience of rescue has been as varied as life has been in general. I’ve seen a lot of sadness and difficulty, like working in hoarding cases or helping people who have lost their homes to fires and need to board or give up their animal companions. I’ve seen a lot of happiness, with animals who came from bad circumstances or came in to the rescue with dire medical needs, who recover and go on to find homes where they become cherished members of their new families. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some wonderful people and I’ve met some of the best friends I’ll ever have working through the rescue. Rescue work drives you to keep improving to better serve the animals in your care, I’ve often told people getting their start in rescue that they should be prepared for the reality that rescue will take as much as you can possibly give and it will never feel like you are doing enough. Working in rescue has given me a greater appreciation for what people are capable of, and the kind of amazing things you can do with the support of even a small number of dedicated people. It’s humbling to look back over the years and realize a project that started with a handful of hamster cages in my small apartment has grown into such a large organization, and it’s thanks to the hundreds of people over the years who have supported a cause that was important to me, and turned out to be important to a lot more people than I had initially dared to hope.

M.M.: To date, what has been the most rewarding part of working with North Star Rescue? Have any stories been particularly memorable?

L.P.: The most difficult and rewarding case that I’ve ever worked on is the one we are most famous for as a rescue group, in 2010 we started working with the television show AE’s Hoarders to help a man in Southern California who had 1,500 rats that had been breeding out of control and had taken over his house. While our rescue group had worked on hoarding situations before, the largest case we had ever encountered previous to this was closer to 300 animals and four digits was a pretty daunting task, to say the least.
I could probably fill a book just with stories that came from that case and the following year of working with the rats we took out of it, but since this isn’t a book I’ll try to give you the “in a nutshell” version. The planning stage was a whirlwind of e-mails, phone calls, documentation, plane trips and information gathering. Everyone involved in the rescue effort went all out to make sure we were as ready as we could be for the trapping and relocation of the rats to begin. We had our volunteers prepping for the arrival of the rats along with Andy’s Pet Shop, a pet store we were partnered with who converted their new store location into the world’s biggest custom rat shelter in a matter of just a few weeks along with help from United Animal Nations, who dispatched dozens of volunteers to help us with the busy first stages of the rescue. Our core team of rescuers went down to Southern California along with the Humane Society of United States, a filming crew that produced the show, and a junk removal company that would help us gut the house to get the rats out. We spent just three days on site initially, catching the rats while the show was filmed. Over the next several months, we’d make more trips every 1-2 weeks to pick up additional rats that had been caught on the property that were still coming out of the roof and walls where we hadn’t been able to reach them on the first sweep.
The workload was intense. We took in approximately 1,000 rats on the first trip, and had more arriving every week from the trapping efforts down South and more arriving every week from pregnant mothers who were popping out litters right and left. For the first several weeks, we cared for all of the rats but couldn’t release any for adoption, we had to quarantine them first and had several vets who were helping us run various types of health tests on the smaller colonies we had separated the rats in to so we could be sure they were healthy and ready to go to new homes. Those first few weeks were the hardest, we also had hundreds of rats who had come in with injuries and had a packed medical room with rat cages overflowing into the hall, all in order of the urgency of their medical needs, so that the vets who rotated through to help us could see to the most at risk cases first.
The story of the rescue effort hit the news before the TV show about the case would air, and the news crews started showing up. First it was just the local papers, and then we started getting calls and camera crews from all over wanting to hear more about the big rat rescue. Volunteers started bringing in newspapers and print outs from the internet, we started getting newspapers in the mail from other states and other countries. By the end of it, we saw that our story had made it into a paper on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. E-mails and letters poured in by the hundreds, and then the thousands. Finally, the day came that we were able to open for adoptions and we had a constant crowd of people pouring in to the store to meet the rats and take them home. I remember one of the store staff members calling out adoption numbers as we reached new milestones…25 rats adopted, 50 rats adopted, 100 rats adopted!
Working on that case was the one that made me realize how much I had to be thankful for in my rescue career. It was a daunting task to take on, but once we had agreed to work on the rescue case I saw every volunteer, every foster home, every veterinarian, every rescue friend and supporter we had ever had in the rescue’s years come forward to help support us in our biggest case ever. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking in to our rat shelter, and seeing all of our friends there, ready to stand up and carry the heavy work load to save the rats that needed all of us.

M.M.: What can the public do to help people co-exist peacefully with rodents?

L.P.: When we’re talking about pet rodents, one of the most important things people can do is to make sure they research the care and handling needs of the species they plan to bring home first, and make sure they can commit to owning that animal for its entire life span. We receive a lot of animals at our rescue from people who got them for their children that are given up in their first year of life when the kids “lose interest” or “won’t care for them”, and it’s something that could be avoided with an understanding that ownership of any living creature is a commitment. Start with the right species for your home and family, make sure you have the right habitat for them to live comfortably and that they are getting the right diet, those are simple things that make a world of difference to the animal you are bringing home.
We have multiple articles and resources on our website for people who are interested in owning pet rodents, and we’re always happy to take questions by e-mail too. Don’t be shy, we’re here to help! Potential future rodent owners can e-mail us at for personal assistance.

M.M.: Where do you hope North Star Rescue will be in ten years?

L.P.: We have big plans for North Star Rescue and we’re all working hard to make our dreams a reality. We’re hoping that in ten years, we’ll have a proper shelter facility where we can house a larger number of animals, where we will be able to use our volunteer efforts more effectively for the animals, showcase more animals to potential adopters, and host educational events for youth programs so that more people can learn about what wonderful animals pet rodents are. Our goal is to continue expanding not just our facilities and footprint, but to be able to promote our educational efforts nationwide and help other shelters and rescues improve their small animal adoption programs to benefit pet rodents everywhere. Of course, we’re hoping to have the doors opened to our new future facility much sooner! Our ten year goal is that our rodent shelter is up and running and we’re able to start expanding our program to set up other locations in California and beyond.

M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is striving to enter the rescue industry?

L.P.: Be brave, build a solid foundation, grow slowly, and be kind to yourself. You’ll have to be brave to face the hard work and difficult situations faced by rescuers; rescue work isn’t for the faint of heart. The stronger your foundation, with mission statements, guiding principals and operational procedures, the better equipped you’ll be to handle the challenges you will face as you build up your rescue. Take your time and grow your rescue slowly, you don’t need to save the world and drown yourself when you are first starting out. Growth comes with time and if you pace yourself, you’ll serve the animals under your care better along the way. Be kind to yourself, you are going to be taking care of a lot of animals and people in your rescue work, but you have to remember that you are the most important asset that you have to offer to your rescue work. I’ve recently started a blog series on a separate website, Alma Rodentia, that is geared towards helping new rescuers learn the ropes of rescue and what they need to do to get their own rescue group established and growing. The series is called Rescue 101, and while my experience is centered around the rescue of pet rodents, I’m hopeful that rescuers of any species will find helpful information for when they are planning their own rescue projects.

Are there any upcoming projects and/or events that you would like to mention?

L.P.: North Star Rescue is currently working on a hoarding case involving 500+ rats, which is the second largest case we have taken on. We’re in great need of adopters, additional food and supplies for the rats while they are in foster care, donations to help with spay/neuter and medical bills, and committed volunteers who can help with the numerous jobs that come along with supporting the care of all of the rats. We have the majority of the rats available for adoption at our flagship store at Dandelion Dreams Pet Supplies, 1610 Francisco Blvd., Pacifica, CA, and more with our longest running adoption partner, Andy’s Pet Shop, at 51 Notre Dame Avenue, San Jose, CA. In 2016, we’re hoping to take the first steps towards establishing our main shelter facility and we’re currently on the hunt for the right property where we can open the doors to the first real shelter location just for pet rodents. We’re hoping to find our future landlords, or even better, an animal loving property owner who will donate space to us…if you are out there among the readers we’d love to hear from you!

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To learn more about North Star Rescue visit their official website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. To visit Lauren’s Small Animal Blog Store, click here.

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