Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Moncton man rescue rats

Local rat lover houses abandoned, neglected rodents while trying find them good homes


Clark Graham has 87 rats in his house. He knows this because he put them there.

No, he's not trying to unload an unreasonable amount of cheese and he's not grocery shopping for a pet python. On the contrary, Graham runs Angel's Heart, a rat rescue on the old Shediac Road.

Similar to the SPCA in the sense that it provides a home for abused and abandoned animals, Graham's non-profit rescue, one of the few in existence, has been in operation for seven years and caters to rat lovers across the Maritimes who, for a price, can adopt a cuddly rodent for themselves.

"There is no money to be made," Graham said. "I adopt them out at a reasonable price so they won't become food for snakes. I charge enough so they won't go for that."

Graham asks for a donation of $15 from people adopting a rat, which he hopes will deter anyone looking to buy cheap snake food. The money is then spent on feeding and housing the rats who can ring up $40 in grocery bills weekly.

"An adoption form must be filled out, people must be approved. I make sure my rats are going to a good home."

Graham said applicants must go through a rigorous interview process before being allowed to take their chosen rat home.

Most of his customers are contacted through his website where they are able to leave messages inquiring about possible adoptions. Some from as far away as Ottawa.

Gillian Goodwin, a local customer and veterinarian, met Graham through a friend.

Growing up she had always liked mice, but like many people, was afraid of rats. That changed thanks to a friend who introduced her to the animals she now considers, "little dogs."

Goodwin has eight rats of her own and fosters a number of rats for Graham on the side. She said, despite what people think, they are actually a very clean animal, grooming themselves almost as often as cats, and can be as social as most dogs.

"They're not a pet you can just put in a cage and ignore," he said, adding a rat needs at least an hour of human contact daily outside of its cage.

Which isn't a problem for Goodwin as all of her rats are house-broken and use a litter box.
"They're like little dogs only in smaller bodies," she said.

It was roughly six years ago when Graham took in his first rat. Before that he had always owned more traditional pets like dogs and cats.

"All my life I've had dogs, I've had cats," he said. "I've had almost all the animals there are."
But after a friend introduced him to rats that all changed.

"I fell in love with them," Graham said. "They are very affectionate."

Aside from having rats of his own he also takes in rats people leave in fields or abandon at shelters like the SPCA. Some have been neglected, even abused.

"Some were not social because they were abused," Graham said. "But I have a way with rats so I turned them into good little rats."

Despite people's usual dislike of rats Graham said all they need is a proper loving environment to thrive in. He said after taking one abused rat in it became so gentle he could feed it rice out of his hand without worrying about being bitten.

"You have to have patience, time and a lot of love for them."

However, because rats have an average lifespan of approximately three years, Graham has to make his love count.

"It does take a lot from you because they do not have a long lifespan so you have to deal with that a lot," he said. "I've lost my fair share of rats over the years, but the love you share with them is worth it."

The rats are housed in cages with the females separated from the males to prevent mass breeding, something Graham said would be inevitable if they weren't divided.

"They go in heat every few days," he said. "They can multiply very fast."


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