Regina rat rescuer says rodent gets bad rap from landlords
Charming Rat Rescue founder says many renters are forced to give up their beloved pets
A woman in Regina has a lot of work on her hands, running an animal rescue out of her home.
She's not saving cats or dogs. Rather, her work focuses on rats.
To most people, they're urban pests, or nightmare material. That's exactly why rats need a rescuer, Charmaine Benson says.
Benson has taken care of rats under the moniker Charming Rat Rescue for six years.
They're fancy rats, not subway rats
Benson says the rats she rescues are not the same as the rats you might see in a subway or on a farm.
They're "fancy rats" — bred for life as pets.
She says rats love unconditionally, and she loves them, too.
That's why she doesn't mind opening up her rescue to 100 of them — cooking and feeding them rice, pasta and vegetables every day.
Why so many rats?
Benson says many of the rats she takes in are beloved pets, but they're unwelcome in rental homes.
Many landlords don't accept pets, and the ones who do often don't allow rats.
"They hear the word rat and then they say, 'No, you can't have it,'" she said. "Much like people have to surrender their dogs and their cats for the same reason, rats have to separate from their owners"
The Regina Humane Society says there are simply fewer homes for all pets in general, because they're not always welcome in every home.
Marketing and public relations director Bill Thorn says that's a common reason why people surrender pets to shelters.
"Which we don't like seeing, especially if an animal did have a home, and a loving home, and someone who wanted it. But sometimes life's situations dictate that you need to move or whatever, and we do see that," he said. "But the more properties that allow them, the more animals we can place, and that's a good thing."
Thorn suggests prospective tenants try to work out written agreements with landlords, offer to pay an additional pet deposit, bring veterinarian records and references for the pet, and even have the landlord meet the pet in person. The Regina Humane Society offers tips for pet owners seeking rental housing on its website.
"Damage happens anyway, and landlords do have recourse and are protected through damage deposits and such," Thorn said.
Benson is one of the few people in Saskatchewan who will take rats in, since another rat rescuer left Saskatoon a few years ago. Word has gotten out that Benson will care for homeless rodents.
"I get a lot of people calling, and they know someone is giving rats away, and it doesn't sound like a very good thing and they're going to go get them for me," she said. "I say, 'OK, we can do that.'"
Benson jokes that the rat race is busy, but she loves to help them. She works in a retail store during the day, but calls her rat rescue her "second full-time job." Benson owns her own home in north central Regina, so she doesn't need to worry about clearing her rats with a building owner.
Prospective adopters must apply
If you think you might help take a member of her rat pack off her hands, you'll have to apply first.
"Yep, just like a dog would need a right owner, you need a right owner for a rat."
She asks for two non-family references and an in-person meeting. Benson says she can always tell who's ready for a rat and who isn't.
She has screened out a few people who were looking for a snack for their reptile.
"Any adoption agency would make sure that the people who are going to take the animals, it's going to be in a suitable home and they're going to be looked after," she said. "So I do the same thing."
'Unconditional love' from a rodent
If you can make it through her adoption process, they're sweet, active pets who will love you unconditionally, Benson says.
Just play with them often, and don't keep them in a kennel, she advises.
Pet rats usually live around three years, so many don't have a lot of time with their new adoptive owners, Benson says.
Alternatively, sometimes her rat rescue serves as a final place for them to live out the remainder of their lives.
"You want to make sure that even if they've only got two years, it's going to be a good two years."