In 2008, Dawn Burke and her husband, Don, decided to start The Rat Retreat—a sanctuary where they care for mistreated, sick or unwanted rats.
The two came to StoryCorps to talk about how the project got started.
Music Info: "1986" by Fredrik from the album Na Na Ni.
Click here for the transcript.
Don Burke: And then eventually we brought home Asha and Berka.
Dawn: And Annie, Mattie and Lex.
Don: It grew very quickly from one rat to 72.
Dawn: I have to brag that we were the very first rat sanctuary in the United States to have our 501(c)(3) status. We have all the cages on tables, and we leave them open. Someone who came in the other day said it's like the Taj Mahal for rats--they have lots of space. We like to have it that way because we're trying to make up for how people mistreat them and raise them as snake food and just throw them away.
Don: So why don't you talk about Annie?
Dawn: People call it their heart rat-- that one rat that they never forget. And Annie would run to the door when she heard the doorbell to great everybody. Everybody loved her so much.
Don: Remember she was your own private teeth cleaner?
Dawn: Yes. [Laughs] People call them Rodentists. And Annie was really gentle, and she would get back to my molars, you know, and pick food out. [Laughter] I just adored her.
Don: Sometimes people don't realize just what rats can become. They can be a real pet.
Dawn: The other night I was giving Bartholomew his medicine, and I felt something cross my feet. And Domino had gotten off the table, and he came looking for me.
Don: That was the most surprising thing to me is that they don't just scurry on the floor like you've seen rats do. It's like when they're really happy they hop like bunnies.
Dawn: And that's one of the things we're trying to teach people is that they have a heart.
And I want to thank you for doing The Rat Retreat with me. I know it's cost us a lot of money and put us in the hole financially having 72 rats at one time. But, I'm just really grateful to have you as a partner to do this with me.
Don: And the feeling is mutual.
Dawn: Bernadette and Barney.
Dawn: Jack Frost and his pink eyes.
Dawn: George, Vanessa and Savanah.