We started in 1995, as everyone did at that time, using petstore rats. My first rat, who was intended as just a pet, was the most social, endearing, wonderful animal I'd ever owned. Lotus came with me everywhere, in the inner pocket of my trenchcoat, to gaming conventions and Magic card tournaments. I became known as "ratgirl," or "the girl with Lotus," because everyone knew her and loved her. More than a few famous gaming and Magic card artists ended up doing sketches of my sweetheart as she traveled with me, and she was so well loved that we were only ever asked to leave once (and people protested!)
She also, in the initial period of getting to know her, gave birth 23 days after I got her to a beautiful rainbow of babies. She herself was a coarse-haired, rusty-patched Black Berkshire, but she gave me Agoutis, Minks, Fawns, Beiges, and jet Blacks, some with fantastic curly coats, in Berkshire and Hooded and even Bareback! I was stunned that this admittedly ugly little rat could have some beautiful genes in her to give to her babies! How did it work? I had to know, so I joined the Ratlist message list, back when it was just a bounceback-email digest on a California majordomo server. Because the internet didn't have graphic capabilities at this time, I emailed descriptions and snail-mailed pictures to rat fanciers in California, where the only real rat fancy was blooming, especially Mary Ann Isaksen, who had just split from AFRMA to form the RMCA. She helped me identify colors and start my first breeding program, using fancy rats bred by herp enthusiasts. At that time, herp enthusiasts were the only one who could breed in the volume necessary to cause the sort of marking and color mutations the fancy didn't have access to yet, and many of them kept the prettiest of their rats as pets and bred them for their interesting colors and markings.
I bred that way for a couple of years, and then a messy divorce drove me away from breeding for a time. Living in a small apartment, I didn't feel it was fair to my rats (or me!) to have more than just a few as pets. I kept the last products of my breeding line until they died, and then kept petstore rats for a time. Eventually, I moved into a new home with my new boyfriend, who was to become my rat-breeding partner and eventually my husband, Caesar.
Stable again, I invested time seeking out breeders from whom I could get good stock. They weren't easy to find! After several misteps where I trusted the wrong people, I began to notice that the rat fancy in the area was very uncontrolled. Because we were so far away from the larger rat clubs, which were at the time based as usual in California, and a big non-showing club in New York. There were very few standards for how rats should be kept, and very few standards on dealing ethically with others. It was considered normal for people to give you a rat without a pedigree, saying they would mail it to you - but they never would. The internet was now beginning to blossom into huge use, and some breeders kept websites, but many did not. There was no way to verify pedigrees, and many were falsified, and no breeder felt any need to make their health records (if they even had any) public. Over the years, these things all became a source of acute aggravation.
I got involved with the start-up of the Rat Society of America (RSA) and founded the Rat Fanciers of the Lakes (RFL) in partnership with Kirstin Allan from The FarStar Rattery, who I was mentoring at the time. Our intention was to start a club where the Code of Ethics was actually followed, where breeders cared more about the actual health and temperament of their lines than flashy colors and splashy markings, and where producing the best, healthiest pets possible was our main goal. The RFL became active supporters and partners with NIRO, another RSA club, helping run and judge their shows as well as safely participating with our own rats. In time, we too held our own shows, though the RSA fell by the wayside, and recently NIRO too has vanished.
My main concern for my rattery is openness and honesty. I adore my rats, and can't imagine my life without their little furry faces pressed forward, whiskers twitching and noses wiggling, to say hello every day. I want to give each of my adopters the best experience I can, by producing fantastic pets from healthy lines, and giving them the option to show these beautiful animals if they want. My husband and I are committed in partnership to this goal, and you can be assured that the rats raised here are happy, well socialized, and come from well-documented pedigreed bloodlines with health and lifespan clearly available.