Summer of the Rats

Virginia Simpson
From the September/October 2000 Rat & Mouse Gazette

That's how I'll always remember this summer. When at least one cage must be cleaned each day. When I waited for the phone call or email saying "'I'm interested in the rats..." Even as I write, 11 girls are playing on the kitchen table. Forty-five still need homes.

Like many things, it began with a phone call. Carol from the vets' office left a message asking me to call her back. Odd, because none of my boys were being treated at the time.

Carol does volunteer work for the Humane Society of Durham Region (http://www.humanedurham.com) and had been at the shelter the previous day (Thursday, May 11, 2000) when some rats and mice were brought in. These animals had been dumped near the model airplane club's runway in the Heber Downs Conservation area just 15 minutes from my home. The estimate that Carol had heard was that there were "hundreds." I was skeptical and figured 60 could probably look like hundreds.

My spouse, Bill, and I went there that evening. There had been hot, dry weather early in the week, but two bad storms had broken the heatwave and caused some flooding. Another storm was sweeping in with black clouds.

We wandered all around the hill where the runway was, but didn't see any rats, so we walked back to the truck feeling a bit disappointed. Bill was standing by the passenger door waiting for me to unlock it when a Black Hooded rat jumped up on a discarded cinderblock in the ditch beside him and stood up on its hind legs as if to say, "Here we are!"

They were living in the ditch at the end of a deadend road. Low ground. The sheer number of bodies in the ditches and puddles was heart-rending. I learned later that what I thought were puddles filled with rat kittens were probably mice, because mice were dumped on the east side, and rats on the west. Even worse, there was no food for them, so they were cannibalizing the bodies. We were not prepared for a situation like this at all!

Our first concern was to try to get them to move out of the ditch to slightly higher ground by the fenceline. We needed to put some food there. Off to the grocery for carrots, broccoli, kale, romaine, and popping corn - things we could get fast that would still be edible after being rained on. We stopped at the house to grab a three foot PVC pipe so that some tiny bit of shelter would be available.

When we left that evening the air was filled with the sounds of rats crunching on popping corn. Well over 100 rats, many of whom didn't survive that night's storm and the 40 degree temperature that went along with it. We caught approximately 80 - I don't have an exact count of how many the Humane Society took before they had to say "no more," but we were left with 40, and I believe the shelter took about the same.

Of my 40 rescues, only two were boys. Amazingly, only five girls had litters. Unfortunately, one of the litters was born in a very crowded cage and were were unable to detect who the mother was soon enough to save them. That happened in the first couple of days after we found out we were becoming an impromtu shelter - while we were both trying to find more cages and capture the rats who still remained out there. We never did capture them all, much to my regret. The last time we visited the site there was no sign of life left at a spot where we were sure at least three rats had been stubbornly holding on to their freedom.

When the dust finally settled, I had 78 rescue rats. From the initial rescue we had 38 girls and two boys. The four litters were 9, 7, 10, and 12 - 38 babies in all. I know we were very lucky to not only have small litters, but also to have so few.

At this moment, we are housing three boys and 42 girls from this rescue. Thirty-three have found homes - some as far away as Philadelphia. The Humane Society still has many rats available. Unlike myself, they also managed to rescue mice. Most of their mice have brown and white or black and white markings.

Many people have heard of this rescue effort already through the Internet, and a number of them have sent us donations of money and supplies (we even received a Wodent Wheel, which has been whirring ever since). If any of those people are reading this, I would like them to know that they have really made a difference. Not only to the quality of life that we have been able to offer these rescues, but to Bill and me who have often felt that we just couldn't keep up the pace needed to care for the little ones anymore. Thank you.

If anyone wishes to help out by adopting, fostering, or donating, the contact information is as follows:

Humane Society of Durham Region
199 Waterloo Street
Oshawa, Ontario L1H 3W9 Canada
Email: humanedurham@osh.auracom.com

Virginia Simpson
601 Dundas Street West
Box 24002
Whitby, Ontario L1N 8X8 Canada
Email: rmca@justrats.com