How does one round up 1,000 loose pet rats to save in a house? With a lot of work and planning!
In November of 2010, volunteers from North Star Rescue and the emergency team from the Humane Society of the United States joined together to secure everything needed to give these rats the second chance at life that they so deserved. Not only did a plan have to be made to catch the rats, but they had to be safely transported to a location that would have to be quickly made to accomadate over 1,000 rats. Plans had to be made for their long term care, medical care, and socialization so that one day they could be adopted out to spend the rest of their lives being cared for like normal pet rats.
A plan was made to catch all of the rats, using over two hundred small cages and transportation bins made specially for the rats to travel in. They would later take a ride on a temperature controlled freight truck from the house in Southern California to San Jose where an emergency shelter was being set up for the rats.
In San Jose, the staff at Andy's Pet Shop were hard at work clearing their main floor of all of the store equipment and their fixtures to make a large open space for the rats to live in their new cages. Pallets and pallets of equipment, food, bedding and toys for the rats arrived from Petsmart Charities Relief Waggin' program, donated to make sure the rats had a comfortable place to land when they arrived.
Volunteers from United Animal Nations arrived to work alongside staff members from Andy's Pet Shop and volunteers from North Star Rescue to build over 200 more cages, including large ferret nations that would house large social groups of rats, and smaller isolation cages for the sick and injured who would need treatment. A maternity ward was built for pregnancy rats, an isolation room for the sick, and rows and rows of cages were set up on the main floor for the majority of the rat population. A medical room was equipped for Veterinary help on site, and a hallway was streamlined with tables for teams of volunteers working in shifts to document each individual rat coming in.
On November 17th, 2010, volunteers from North Star Rescue and the emergency team from the Humane Society of United States met in Southern California to finish building bins and filling them with bedding to give the rats a comfortable ride to their new temporary home. Huge coolers were loaded with cut produce to help keep the rats fed and hydrated during the truck ride. The team met to solidify the plan to round up the rats.
Early on November 18th, the combined team of the Humane Society of the United States and North Star Rescue joined the production team for A&E's Hoarders and the clean-up crew who would help strip down the walls and clean out the house so that it might eventually be habitable again one day. Team leads walked through the house to start a plan and to assess problem areas where it would be more difficult to catch the rats, such as holes in the walls that went into contained areas out of arm's reach.
Through the day on November 18th, the team worked at a frantic pace to catch the rats and sort them into compatible groups that could safely ride on the truck together. The rats had to be rounded up using pens and corrals, caught by hand, and secured into bins that would be taken out to teams monitoring the social behavior on the truck and pulling the sick and injured rats to be checked by Dr. Lynn McEwans, the veterinarian on site assisting with the first triage of the rats.
Throughout the day, the rats were caught, sorted, and fed to keep the groups stable for the truck ride. The day was difficult for the whole team, who ran between the house to move containers full of rats, and worked quickly to pull badly injured rats out to go to the emergency medical center on site. Many of the rats, suffering severe wounds from social aggression in the house caused by too many rats and not enough food, were severely injured or malnourished, and the rats who could not be saved were given a humane euthanasia so that they would no longer have to suffer.
At the end of the day, approximately 1/3 of the rat population remained in the house and hundreds of rats were already loaded on the truck. The exhausted team worked well into the night before returning to a hotel to rest, waking up about four hours later to return to continue catching and sorting the rats. Three of the five volunteers from North Star Rescue flew back that morning to make sure that the emergency shelter was equipped and the volunteers were prepared to receive the rats.
On November 19th, the remaining rats in the house were caught and placed onto the truck. With the catching of so many loose rats taking the majority of the next day as well, the rats were made comfortable on the truck to rest up for one night along with the team who would drive up the following day.
On November 20th, the rats arrived on the freight truck and a team of approximately 30 volunteers from United Animal Nations, North Star Rescue and friends of Andy's Pet Shop started to unload hundreds of containers of rats. The rats were rushed into the emergency shelter where they received critical medical support for many of the sick and injured who could still be saved, and more volunteers circulated quickly to feed and water all of the rats.
For the following week, a dedicated team of volunteers from United Animal Nations assisted the North Star Rescue team to operate the emergency shelter at Andy's Pet Shop. Rats were sorted by the hundreds, checked over individually by experienced rat caregivers, and moved into large habitats where they could comfortably enjoy nest boxes, hammocks, treats, good food and clean water.
The North Star Rescue team continues to work to provide the rats day to day care, socialization and medical attention with the expert assistance of Dr. Carolyn Harvey of Chabot Veterinary Clinic in Hayward, and have been joined by many animal lovers to have volunteered to work at the emergency shelter to help take care of the rats.
The temporary rat shelter is expected to operate at Andy's Pet Shop in San Jose until April or May of 2011. Since the rats were removed from the property in November of 2010, over 1,000 rats have either been adopted or transferred to other shelters or rescues who are assisting with finding them all homes. Hundreds more rats are still available for adoption, and North Star Rescue will continue to work with the rats until they can all find safe homes.