Some Frequently Asked Questions About SITH Rattery
Specializing In Temperament and Health
1. Where did the name SITH Rattery come from?
People began referring to my pet rats as the evil SITH Ratties long before I started rat breeding. It actually started when my then teenaged son, Patrick, took a bunch of photos, just for fun, of our pet rats posed with some of his friend's StarWars Toys. This was way back before the dawn of the digital camera. He used a tiny dab of peanut butter here and there to encourage their co-operation, but often he just got in some very lucky shots. As I was looking through the photos, I got the idea for the story. I even sent him back for some retakes to flesh it out. For any non StarWars fans, the Sith are the powerful bad guys who fight the Jedi, or "good guys", throughout the series. I scanned and uploaded the photos to a website, added captions, graphics and some StarWars music, and the story of the Evil SITH Ratties Fighting the Jedi went instantly viral. I still get regular emails from pet rat fans, StarWars fans, and even people who are not particularly fans of either, contacting me to express their appreciation for the photo story. It's so low tech compared to what people can do nowadays, it's almost embarrassing, but we like it just the way it is. When I first started my rattery, I had all sorts of ideas for rattery names but none of my friends or mentors would hear of my calling it anything but Sith. When someone pointed out to me that the letters S.I.T.H. stand for Specializing In Temperament and Health, that pretty much sealed the deal.
2. Can I come to look at your rats?
We like nothing better than to show off our pet rats, but we would like people to bear in mind that our ratteries are located in our homes. We both have family members and busy schedules to work around, and there is no way you will be able to see all the rats in one stop anyway. Approximately half of our rats are located at SITH Rattery in Coquitlam, and the other half at Small Joys Rattery in New Westminster. Often we also borrow back some of our rats for stud that have been adopted to pet homes, and if we have recently taken some of our rats to a show, then the "show rats" along with their cagemates, will be in "quarantine" for 3 weeks at yet another location; Homefinders Animal Rescue Society, in Vancouver. Also, at times when we have a show coming up, we need to temporarily close our ratteries for a mandatory 3 week pre-show quarantine. This happens about 5 times a year, at the most.
In between these times, we try to hold rattery open house party's several times a year and invite pretty much everyone who has ever applied to adopt from us. At these events, we try to ensure that as many as possible of the relatives of current and future litters are gathered in one place for people to meet them. We also attend all of the Pacific Northwest rat shows, with a good sampling of our rats in tow, including our local BC Rat Show, Ratstravaganza. We really do encourage people to take advantage of these opportunities to meet our rats. In between such events, should approved adopters really insist on meeting the parents, grandparents, and other relatives of a litter or proposed litter, it an sometimes be arranged. We're just asking that you please bear in mind that arranging for complete strangers to visit someone's home is not exactly as easy as walking into a store. I personally prefer to establish a bit of a relationship first, either via email or the RatsPacNW Facebook group or both... and of course we will always expect visitors to follow strict quarantine procedures.
2. Why is SITH Rattery not a completely "Closed Rattery"?
At the other end of the scale, we sometimes have people concerned by the fact that we are not a completely "Closed Rattery". At a closed rattery, they never allow anyone into their rattery at any time, for any reason, and insist on meeting adopters at another location. This may be a concern of having strangers know where they live, which in these times can be a legitimate one, but it is usually because they are genuinely afraid of illness being brought into their rattery. While we too share these concerns, I have been around pet rat circles for a very long time and have not heard of one incidence where a lethal rat virus has been brought in by visitors, or even at an open house party, or other rat free social event. (Note: by "rat free" I mean with nobody's rats except for those of the host.) In fact, when proper precautions are taken, I believe the chances of a virus being brought in are virtually nonexistent. Many Ratteries in the RatsPacNW club have been holding regular rat free social events in their homes for a good 10 years or more and none of us have ever had a problem. This is just my humble opinion of course, but I would be very suspicious that some people who keep a "Closed Rattery" simply have something they don't want you to see (in fact I know some of them do!) Here at SITH and Small Joys Ratteries, we try to walk a fine line somewhere in between a closed rattery and one that is at all times wide open to everyone... everything in moderation.
4. What is all this talk about quarantine?
There are a number of contagious diseases pet rats can get, some of which have high fatality rates, yet unlike similar cat and dog diseases, there are no vaccines to protect pet rats as yet. So far, our only defence against them is to quarantine. Here at SITH and Small Joys ratteries, for the protection of our rats as well as those of our adopters, we follow strict quarantine procedures. If we attend a show or adopt rats from another rattery, those rats go to our quarantine home for at least 3 weeks. We are fortunate to have a quarantine arrangement with Homefinders Animal Rescue Society, a Vancouver based animal rescue organization, that has extensive experience with pet rat care, yet no longer does rat rescue. The also have a veterinary assistant living there, so we can always rest assured that the rats we leave in their care will be carefully monitored for any health problems that might arise. Note: quarantine is only effective in a separate building where there are no other rats or rodents, since some viruses can be passed from one species of rodent to another. Attempting to quarantine under the same roof, even at the opposite end of a large house, is totally useless against these highly airborne diseases. Common viruses, such as SDA and Sendai, lower the immune systems of the rats, allowing other infections such as mycoplasma pulmonis, which pretty much all domestic rats carry, to become active. If this happens, immediate aggressive treatment with antibiotics in imperative to minimize fatalities. The most common source of these viruses are pet stores that sell live rodents. If you must shop in one of these stores, you must always quarantine yourself, by waiting at least 3 hours before returning home to your rats. Rat viruses are so highly contagious you don't even need to go anywhere near the store's rats. They can live outside the body of a rat for up to 3 hours on your clothing, skin or hair, or that of a store employee or customer that you happen to touch or brush past. Rats do not have to have symptoms of illness in order to spread the virus. We are very fortunate in the BC Lower Mainland that there are many pet supply stores that do not sell live rodents. More information on rat viruses can be found here. Before visiting our rattery we do insist that people not visit a pet store, a vet, another rattery, anyone with pet rats, or go somewhere where they might be exposed to wild rats, in the 3 hours leading up to your visit.
5. Where am I on the waiting list?
The answer to that one is usually always going to be, "we don't know yet". This is because, we don't know until a litter is born, how many babies we will have and how many will be male or female, or even how many will have the specific characteristics that you and others on the waiting list are looking for. Once a litter is born, we first need to decide how many babies Erin and I will be keeping for ourselves. It is really difficult to decide until the babies are at least 4 weeks old and personalities have become apparent. Because babies need other babies to play with, we usually keep more than one - each! If it's a joint litter that one of us has done with another rattery, then the other rattery will have the next pick after us and may also opt for more than one. Then at any given time, we are likely to be "owing" babies to other hobby breeders we trade with, and they will have given us a top pick, so naturally, we have to offer them the next pick. This tends to worry people, but usually other ratteries are looking for something very specific, and most of the time, they will "pass" until just the right baby, comes along, so it's not really as bad as it might sound. It's by working closely with other pedigreed ratteries and trading the best babies back and forth that we continue to improve the lines.
Finally, we start looking at approved applications in the order they were received. Again, it's not unheard of for someone who initially thought they wanted 2 babies, to decide they want 3 or 4, or for someone who initially wanted girls, to switch over to the boy list. Others may have found babies elsewhere and forgotten to let us know. This happens a lot, especially if it's been a while since we had babies available, and we don't get to find these things out until after we start going through the waiting list. There is just no way we can predict what any of the people ahead of you on the list will decide to do. Usually, the best we can do is to let you know whether or not you have a good chance of getting babies from a given litter or whether you might have to wait for the next. We are sorry to keep people in suspense like that, but we would rather not get people's hopes up by guesstimating their place on the waiting list, and then have to say "sorry we don't have babies for you after all." We can tell you that SITH and JOY babies are worth waiting for and that you won't be disappointed.
6. When the time comes, how do I choose my babies?
We usually try to put the photos of the babies up on a webpage at around 2 1/2 weeks old, along with a detailed description... sometimes if we are really organized we might get some up sooner, but usually we wait until their eyes are fully open and they are at their optimum cutest. If it's a litter with assorted markings, we try to get photos showing the markings from all possible angles. We will put notations next to the babies we are keeping and then start working our way down the waiting list, putting the rattery prefix or name of the adopter next to each baby as they are reserved. Unless someone on the waiting list is particularly difficult to reach, the whole process usually goes fairly quickly. (Note: If you are on the waiting list and planning an extended vacation from email, be sure to let us know!) It's always our hope that once their turn on the waiting list rolls around, people will trust our judgment and be comfortable choosing their babies from the photos and/or our recommendations. Any rats from the lines we work with are going to be social and lovable at the time of adoption. That's something we guarantee. Beyond that, no one can offer any guarantees because rare genetic personality disorders can pop up later in any line, although they are less likely in the pedigreed lines we work with. Before I started breeding rats myself, I used to raise my eyebrows, when hobby breeders would tell me that all personalities in a given litter were pretty much the same, but it is actually very true. In the rare instance that we did have a baby that was clearly not going to make a suitable pet, we would not adopt them out, or we would clearly list them as having "special needs". If someone is absolutely insistent on choosing their babies in person, and we are able to work out a mutually convenient time to do that, without holding up the rest of the waiting list for too long, and without compromising our quarantine situation, then it can certainly be arranged.
7. How old must the babies be before I can bring them home?
Most litters are not fully weaned until at least 4 weeks old, and many will still nurse for 41/2 to 5 weeks or more. Often an extra large litter grows and develops a little more slowly and needs to nurse for a little longer. We like to keep an eye on them for a few days after they are weaned, just to be sure they are eating well on their own, plus there are definite benefits to them staying with their mother and siblings for those extra few days - the mother will still be teaching them things, plus they learn a lot through group play with their siblings. Somewhere around the age of 5 1/2 to 6 weeks the babies become fully sexually mature, so the males and females need to be separated before then. Just to be on the safe side we usually separate them by 5 weeks of age or sometimes a little earlier, if we are sure they are fully weaned. We usually leave the females with their mom for at least a few days after that, so that losing all her babies at once isn't too much of a shock, although most mama rats seem relieved to see them go. Babies are therefore, usually ready to go to new homes somewhere between 5 and 6 weeks of age. If you are adopting male babies and plan to introduce them to one or more adult males, we like to keep them until they are at least 6 weeks. This is because males will sometimes mistake young babies for prey animals and kill them instinctively. This is less likely to happen once they are 6 weeks or older, because they have reached sexual maturity and smell very distinctly like rats to the older males. Occasionally. although not often, we may ask adopters to wait an extra week or two, just to give us a little more time to decide which rats we would like to keep for future breeding.
Of course pet stores and other snake food suppliers will adopt out babies at any age, and there are many backyard breeders, and even some so called rescues that will adopt out babies as pets at 3 weeks of age. Yes, they can usually survive at 3 weeks, but they are not fully weaned and being taken away from their mother at such a young age can affect their physical and mental development, as well as their eventual health and longevity. It would be the equivalent of bringing a puppy or kitten home at 5 or 6 weeks instead of the recommended 8 weeks or more. Yes, they can probably survive at that age, but it wouldn't be good for them. Some people seem to think that the younger the baby is when they bring them home, the more they are likely to bond to them. This is simply not true, especially with pedigreed babies that have already been bred to be social. If anything, that extra couple of weeks with their mom and siblings helps them to develop as more emotionally stable, more secure and confident, and less likely to become biters or develop other behaviour problems later on.
8. Why is there no pet rat care information on the SITH Rattery Website?
Someone recently informed me that not including pet rat care information on one's website is a "red flag", signifying a possible "bad breeder". Well, obviously I disagree! I used to have plenty of pet rat care info on my site, dating back to long before I started breeding. I even had photos of my cages and rat playground. What I found was that people would read it, look at what was in the photos, and simply parrot everything back to me in their applications. What I would prefer to see in an application is some indication that a person is actually doing or planning to do, and not just telling me what they think I want to hear. For those new to pet rats, I would like to see that they have taken the time to do some research into the proper care of their new pets. There is certainly no shortage of good information out there and I do list some suggested sources on my Links page. One word of caution however; do not get your rat care information from pet store employees. They have been trained to sell merchandise, not to recommend the best products for pets of any kind. Nine times out of 10, they will try to sell you the wrong housing, the wrong litter, the wrong food and even unsafe toys.
Once I receive an application, I am happy to discuss pet rat care with the applicant. I also have various files and links on pet rat care, that I do offer to send out to potential adopters, or to pretty much anyone, on request. If anyone has any questions about the level of care my own rats receive, they are welcome to attend one of my many rattery open house events. When I am not in pre-show quarantine, arrangements can also be made to visit the rattery, provided the visitor is willing to take certain precautions against bringing in diseases that could harm my rats. I am also willing to provide plenty of references and testimonials from rescues I have worked with and adopted from, people who have visited my rattery, adopted rats from me, or met my rats at shows, or the many out of town guests I have hosted during local shows and events. Photos of my cages and out of cage play area are also available on request.
9. Why do you not always have babies in stock?
Someone just recently told me that not having babies available at all times is, "no way to run a business." And that is exactly the point. We are NOT running a business! We are not even trying to "break even", let alone trying to make a profit on the babies we adopt out. We are hobby breeders, and it's actually a very expensive hobby - pretty much just a huge hole to pour money into, but it's something we do for sheer love of the animal. We breed our rats for ourselves, for our families and friends, and for trade with a very few trusted, like minded, fellow hobbyists, who care about rats just as much as we do. The rest go to very carefully screened adopters. Every litter is bred with a goal to improving the lines in some way and because of that we keep babies from every litter. If a litter is small, we will often keep all the babies, but because rats generally tend to have large litters, the side benefit is plenty of wonderful pets left over to share with others. Sometimes you just have to be patient, because our babies are worth waiting for. Unlike most pet stores or many "backyard breeders" working directly from pet store "stock", we don't kill off our unsold babies, or sell them as food for other animals. Instead, we carefully plan our litters based on the number of pet homes we have lined up in advance. If we have unusually large litters, or if an unusually large number of people on our waiting list change their mind, we are always prepared to keep all the babies we breed... but this has actually never happened. Most of our litters are completely spoken for, before they are born. Every SITH and JOY baby is a wanted baby!
10. Do you have any advice for new hobby rat breeders?
If you have been thinking about taking up pet rat breeding, please check out the following article entitled Should I Breed My Rats? I don't agree with everything this person has written, for one thing, I think she grossly under estimates the costs involved, as well as the risks to the mama rats, but it's a pretty good starting point for discussion. If after checking out all the pros and cons, you are still thinking about hobby breeding, definitely come and talk to me. Just be sure you have lots of $$$$ saved up to start out because it's a very expensive hobby, and I can't stress that strongly enough.
The Pacific Northwest is a bit short of ethical pedigreed rat breeders at the moment and could actually benefit with a few more. I've had some wonderful mentors who helped me to get started, so I am always happy to help point other new hobby breeders in the right direction. I have never refused to work with, or adopt to any new breeder who was open, honest and sincere about their intentions... and of course willing to learn to do things right. I would be happy to provide testimonials to that fact from those I am mentoring now, or have mentored in the past. I have even helped backyard breeders who started out breeding pet store rats, to start all over again, correcting their past mistakes.
If, however, you are looking to make a quick buck by breeding any old rats and selling them on Craigslist or Kijiji, think again. Shelters are full of animals from people who had similar ideas, couldn't find a market for their babies and ended up dumping them all. That market is more than saturated, and there is really no money to be made. Existing snake food breeders, who get much of their stock and breeding stock "free" from Craigslist, pretty much have that market cornered. If we, at SITH and Small Joys have somehow made finding homes for baby rats look easy, let me tell you that it has taken us years to build up our reputation and our base of repeat adopters to what it is today. 10 years later, we have yet to break even financially, let along make any money, and so long as we continue to do it right, I'm sure we never will.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to new breeders starting out, is "If you don't want to be called a backyard breeder, don't be one!"
11. Why breed more rats when there are so many rescue rats looking for homes?
It took me a long time to get my own head around this one, since animal rescue has always been my first love… and since I am still very active in animal rescue, I frequently encounter rescue advocates who believe that all breeders should be tarred with the same brush, and that breeding pedigreed rats takes homes away from rescue animals. I disagree with this for a number of reasons, and I would further venture to say that so do the rescue organizations I work with. Through my 30+ years of rat homing experience I find that I encounter 3 distinct types of adopters: 1) those who will only adopt rescue animals, 2) those who will only adopt pedigreed babies, with a better chance of health, temperament and longevity, and 3) those who are willing to adopt either and often some of each. (Obviously there are also those who adopt from petstores and backyard breeders, but I only encounter those when they are looking to re-home said rats.) Every person who contacts me looking for babies is made aware of the fact that rats in local shelters are looking for homes… that is, if they happen to miss that information near the top of my homepage, babies page, and specific animal rescue webpage. I also let them know that I give discounts to people who will adopt our babies along with one or more rescue rats. Some people go for it, especially at times when the rescue has similar aged babies, but some people can never be persuaded… although in many cases, I think a seed is planted for future possibilities. Most people who contact us are looking for babies, not adult animals - in fact, most people want babies as young as they can get them - and the rescues in these parts try to do emergency spays whenever possible, so they rarely have babies available. To those who think people would turn toward adopting adult rescues if Erin and I weren’t breeding pedigreed babies, I say “dream on!” They would simply turn to the backyard breeders and snake food breeders on Craigslist, Kijiji or even their local pet store. They can, and they do! I once had some people come to look at some 8 week old babies that had been returned due to allergies, and tell me they were much older than what they were looking for. They went and picked up some 3 week old babies at the sketchy pet store down the street, and I’ve always wondered how that turned out for them. I ended up falling in love with those 2 amazingly sweet boys and keeping them myself. They lived to be almost 3 and were never sick a day in their lives… but I digress.
If anything, I’ve found that since I started breeding pedigreed rats, I have been in a better position than ever to help home rescue rats. Many people come looking for babies and can be convinced to adopt rescues instead of, or as well as, pedigreed rats. I’ve even had people tell me, “I have always looked to rescues to adopt dogs and cats but until I found your website, I had not even realized there were rescues that specialized in rats.” The Pacific Northwest rat rescues we work with The Small Animal Rescue of BC, Little Mischief Rescue, and Best Friend Rodent Rescue, tell us that they have NEVER taken in rats placed by the reputable, ethical breeders in the RatsPacNW club, so I know we are definitely not adding to the problem of homeless rats either. This is because we screen very carefully, and always agree to take back the babies we home, at any age, no questions asked. I am regularly being thanked by our local rescues for all the referrals sent their way, and for all the funds we have helped them to raise, so if in doubt, please feel free to ask them about that.
I know that there are some rescue people out there, especially those who live in areas where the only breeders are the backyard breeders and snake food breeders and where they regularly have to go in and clean up messes that are left behind. Of course this happens here too, I have helped deal with messes left by plenty of sketchy breeders and by a fair number of misguided rescue wannabe’s as well… but the reputable ratteries in our region always look after each other. When one rattery owner is sick or has a housing crisis, the other ratteries look after their rats for them, either permanently or temporarily. We have all pulled together and done this time after time after time! No rat from a RatsPacNW rattery is ever likely to end up in a shelter… in fact we work so closely with the rescues that if they even suspect someone might be surrendering our pedigreed rats, they contact us with the photos, just in case.
For all of the above reasons, I believe that ethical pedigreed rat breeders have never been part of the problem, but are a big part of the solution. Most importantly of all, pedigreed rat breeders are working to improve the health and longevity of one of the most thoroughly messed up domestic animals in existence. Wild rats are not prone to tumors, respiratory issues, heart disease, cancer or genetic birth defects such as megacolon. These are all traits that have been bred into domestic rats first of all by science labs, perpetuated by the horrifying ratty mills that supply most pet stores, and then made even worse by the countless backyard breeders and snake food suppliers who keep on breeding these ratty milled rats in an attempt to make a quick buck. It has taken hundreds of years to get domestic rats as messed up as they are today, so the problem is unfortunately not going to be fixed overnight, but just in the 17 or 18 years since I first started adopting pedigreed rats, I have seen an incredible improvement in the health and longevity of the lines… and we continue to make progress.
Another area that many backyard breeders and snake food breeders have managed to mess up is temperament. I once served as a guest judge at a rat show in Saskatchewan where all of the rats at the show came from pet stores or backyard breeders. At our RatsPacNW shows it is rare that we ever mark down a rat for temperament, yet halfway through that show, the other guest judge and I suddenly realized that we had marked down every rat we’d seen so far… and the rat owners, who had never experienced owning pedigreed rats, and considered their rats' temperaments “normal” didn’t understand why! That for me was a huge eye opener on how much better we were doing with temperaments, compared to parts of Canada and the US, with no pedigreed rat breeders. I know there are people out there who don’t believe in breeding any animal, who will never be convinced, but if it weren’t for hobby breeders trying to make a difference and to improve this species as a whole, I think you would just continue to see the health and temperament of this wonderful animal go steadily down hill.
12. Why do you use the word “adopt”? Aren't you really just "selling" rats?
Many people seem to be confused about the terminology used when placing animals in new homes. I belong to a lot of online rescue forums and frequently hear people say that all rescues “adopt” out animals, and all breeders “sell” them. They believe that breeders have no right to use the terms “adopt” and “adoption”. I totally disagree with this and find it both ignorant and offensive. When selling an animal, all one does is advertise them, collect the money, and hand over the animal, no questions asked. This is what pet stores, snake food sellers, most backyard breeders, and MANY so called animal rescuers do. When you adopt out an animal, you carefully screen that potential adopter, first with an adoption application, then with an interview. You check with landlords, vets and other references, and then do a home visit wherever possible. You then have them sign an adoption contract and collect an adoption fee so that you can be assured they will value that animal. Any reputable rattery or rescue will tell you that an adoption fee is the first line of defence against people looking for snake food or for cheap stock to breed for snake food - although not the only defence by any means! The adoption fees we charge, which we have not raised since we first started breeding, covers registering that animal, raising them on the best possible high quality food, treating them with revolution to ensure they are free of both external and internal parasites, and sending them home with a generous sample of the food they have been weaned onto. If there is any “profit” left over after that, it’s eaten up for several years, the next time we have a birthing emergency and have to do an $800 emergency spay, (which MANY so called rescues would never bother to do!) I have been around both rescue and breeding circles long enough to know that there are just as many "bad" rescues out there as there are bad breeders. All reputable ethical ratteries and rescues go through a lengthy adoption process and charge an adoption fee. There is a HUGE difference between that and selling an animal. It has nothing whatsoever to do with whether you are a breeder or a rescuer. Reputable pet rat breeders and rescuers work closely together in the Pacific Northwest, with none of the "us versus them" attitude that I observe in many other areas. We seem to be very fortunate in that regard and of course the ones who benefit the most from this are the rats.
13. Can you recommend a rattery in my area?
I always wish there was some way I could say yes to this question but I can really only recommend the ratteries here in the Pacific Northwest, run by people I have met and whose homes I, or someone I know and trust, have visited. I have put some information on the lower part of my "Adoption" page, about how to find a breeder in your area, as well as some red flags to watch out for.