Merry Jordan gets the same disbelieving look whenever she tells someone she rescues abandoned, abused and unwanted pets. Not because she rescues. But because the pets are rats.
"It's your typical, 'Oh. Ew. Rats,'" she said.
Although the stuff of nightmares for some people, for Jordan, a volunteer at the nonprofit, statewide Mainely Rat Rescue, rats are the perfect pets — smart enough to be litter box trained, playful enough to engage in a game of fetch, friendly and loving enough to snuggle with their favorite humans.
"They're like dogs but smaller," said Jordan, a 24-year-old CNA from Westbrook.
And they're just curious enough to make life interesting.
"A group of rats is called a mischief for a reason," she said.
Jordan runs Mainely Rat Rescue's online store, which offers, among other things, rat hammocks handmade by her mother. She goes out on rescue calls and has counseled potential adoptive families about choosing their perfect rat. She is also a foster parent, taking in unwanted rats until they are adopted.
Last week she was foster mom to Chord, a gray-and-white baby boy. She also planned to take in Elan, a friendly young rat found playing in someone's yard in Bucksport.
That's on top of her own 10 rats.
"We have a lot of fun with rats around here," she said.
Jordan first fell in love with rats when she was 14 and her biology teacher brought to class a pet hairless rat named Rogaine. She became involved with Mainely Rat Rescue when the group started two years ago.
The rescue group's rats are typically abandoned, abused or unwanted. Some come from overcrowded shelters. Some are found wandering outside as strays and brought in by rat-friendly people. Others are surrendered by owners unable or unwilling to care for them anymore.
With no central location, the group is run through a board of volunteers and a network of foster homes. Although based in Maine, the group has volunteers and does adoptions in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York.
Last year, it found adoptive families for 350 rats. Because rats can get depressed when alone, the group tries to find them homes in pairs or trios.
Rats who are too sick, too close to the end of their average two-year life span or otherwise unadoptable stay in foster care or are moved to a special hospice foster home, where they spend the rest of their lives — though, sometimes, they are permanently adopted by their foster family. That's what happened with Sylas, a blind white rat found abandoned in a closed cat carrier in the woods. Jordan took him in and has no plans to let him go.
Of her 10 rats, nine are former fosters.
Jordan has fostered dozens of rats over the last two years. It's hard for her to let any of them leave, but the more she finds homes for, she said, the more she can help.
"The best part is being able to let them go," she said.
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