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Animal Defenders of Westchester
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Ardsley student rescues rodents after school prank

July 3, 2004

Rats! 20 pets need a place to call home

Alison Bert
The Journal News

ARDSLEY - When an apparent student prank at Ardsley High School sent white mice scurrying down a hallway, a friend of Sara Martin's grabbed her by the arm and told her she was needed.

With boxes and beakers, the 17-year-old junior and her science teachers cornered the 10 critters, who were quivering outside the science lab. The next day, as classes ended for the year, teachers caught two rats let loose in the cafeteria.

Now Martin is trying to find good homes for the rats - and the 18 babies they recently gave birth to.

Martin said rats are friendlier and make better pets than mice, hamsters or gerbils.

"Rats are much smarter and calmer," she said. "But because they're rats, they come with a stigma. People think of sewer rats, but pet rats are completely different."

She should know. She already has six pet rats, along with four parakeets, two cats and a dog.

Despite her family's fondness for the rats, her mother said there was no way they could keep the 20 new arrivals, now housed in Martin's garage. "Can you wonder why?" Doreen Martin said, with a tone of irony.

Pranks are common in the waning months of school. But some cross the line from good old-fashioned fun to acts that prove destructive, costly or embarrassing.

Last year, teachers boycotted the commencement ceremony at Mildred E. Strang Middle School in Yorktown after eighth-graders planned and executed a food fight in the cafeteria. For Senior Prank Day at Pelham Memorial High School, students left a toilet bowl filled with toilet paper and chocolate syrup in the parking lot, and sealed the school's front door with cement.

Animal pranks also have gone awry. Two years ago, police investigated an incident in which students released chickens, rats and crickets throughout Eastchester High School as part of a Senior Day prank. One student reportedly smashed a chicken to the ground, where it was left to die.

Because the mice and rats at Ardsley were trapped within 10 minutes, serious consequences were averted. No animals were harmed, and no rodents remained to chew up walls and books. Still, officials took the matter seriously.

"We don't condone it at all," said Principal James Haubner. "This was considered a disciplinary matter, and unfortunately we were not able to locate the kids that did this. There was a police officer in the building at the time, and he was aware of the situation."

School authorities should report such pranks as criminal behavior, said Kiley Blackman, a spokeswoman for the Animal Defenders of Westchester. She said people who are afraid of rodents could try to hurt them, while domestic breeds can't fend for themselves should they escape.

On her patio, Martin cradled the mouse-size baby rats as they snuggled in a furry white pile, and stroked their silky coats as they crawled onto her palms.

She said she interviews potential owners to make sure they will provide a good home and are not just looking for free "snake food."

Experts say rats make good pets and rarely carry disease or bite.

Veterinarian Laura Robbins of the Center for Veterinary Care in Fleetwood said she has had many rats as "long-term patients," with clients bringing them in for boarding and even surgery. "Most of the people I work with care for these creatures the same as anyone would a dog or a cat," she said.

Domestic rats are friendly, inquisitive and "as different from wild rats as dogs are from wolves," said rat expert and author Debbie Ducommun, who has touted her 20-some-odd rats on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and other national programs. "Rats make wonderful pets because they're a lot like humans. They love to play, and they're very good at getting what they want."

Reach Alison Bert at [email protected] or 914-694-5231.

Rats as pets

The average life span of a pet rat is 2 years. They come in many colors and species.

Rats love interacting with people. They like to be petted and will play with you, and will lick to show affection. It's rare for them to bite if they have been handled as babies, unless they are scared or hurt.

Rats do better living with other rats, of the same sex or neutered.

Full-grown males tend to be more sedentary, and females tend to be more active.

Along with respiratory infections, tumors are the most common health problem and cause of death if untreated. They affect half of non-spayed female rats and about 2 percent of males or spayed females.

Rats can be housed in aquariums or cages with solid floors. Cages should be at least 2 feet long and 1 foot high, because rats like to climb.

For bedding, use hardwood shavings such as aspen, paper products such as CareFRESH or rabbit-food pellets. Avoid pine, cedar and fir, which can irritate the nasal passages of rodents.

Feed them "rat blocks" and fresh fruits and vegetables daily.

For more information, visit or the Web site of the Rat & Mouse Club of America at .

Debbie Ducommun, founder of The Rat Fan Club.

Adopt a rat

Sara Martin is looking for good homes for the pet rats she rescued.

To adopt, call her at 914-527-3301.

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