Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Petrataluma: the road trip

Unforgivably the Petaluma pound summarily euthanized almost all of the rats from the recently discovered hoarding situation. (I note that I personally called the pound the day the rats first went up for adoption and was assured there was no firm kill date and that "these rats will be around for a long time"... that same day, nine-tenths of them were killed by the pound). When this news came out, the individual animal lovers who were organizing to save the rats were devastated. However, Ratty Ratz, a registered 501(c(3) in the Bay Area, made a plan for the surviving babies, and I was able to take part in saving these fabulous little animals.

On Saturday, I met Nicole of Ratty Ratz at the pound. We did not know what we were going to find; her plan was to "pull rats" to be placed for adoption at the upcoming RMCA (Rat and Mouse Club of America) in L.A. The RMCA were looking forward to finding homes for some of the Petaluma rescues. We found that of the ~1,000 original rats, fewer than 100 survived the pound's culling. There were two cages with small babies, one small cage with a few rats who'd bitten staff members, which were being quarantined, and two cages of about 25 rats who were quarantined because they'd shared a cage with the biters. These adult rats were not separated by gender, which means that any female in those cages must be presumed to be pregnant. Sigh. I offered to separate the rats by gender while I was there, but my offer was declined.

I left with one cage of three baby boys (the pound director told us not to take all available baby boys as she felt, based on the calls coming in, that she didn't have enough baby boys to adopt out; I had to bite my tongue from remarking that she shouldn't have euthanized so many then. Because I was there as a humble volunteer for a group which must get along with the pound, I felt a need to be politic), another cage full of 25 baby girls, and a cage of ten grown up female rats from a separate hoarding rescue (there have been a lot of rat hoarders in California recently).

These rats, all adorable beyond belief, stayed at my house for a couple of days. The plan was for me to drive them halfway to L.A., to be met by an RMCA volunteer, on the Monday before the 4th of July. I figured I'd go to scenic San Luis Obispo for the handoff, or maybe meet at the Hearst Castle parking lot, and then go on a tour after I passed on my little charges. However, the RMCA volunteer flaked. Anton was acting very pissy about having the rats in our home any longer than planned. I suggested a different rat activist to do the driving, but it turned out that although he was ready to pick up the rats with no real notice, he was not willing to drive farther than Bakersfield that day. Sigh. We negotiated a meet-up at the Motel 6 off I-5 in Buttonwillow, near Bakersfield, so I wouldn't have to get off the freeway and I could spend the night for only $32. These glorious accommodations were found for me online by my husband, who didn't want me to spend a cent more than necessary. "This is charity work," he noted.

So, far from enjoying San Luis or wallowing in the endless, glorious tack of the Hearst Castle, I had to quickly pack and drive 32 rats in the blazing heat of the Central Valley down I5. It was heavy traffic all the way, the sort of traffic which tailgates you at 90 mph while you're passing a poky truck, and when you finally manage to get by the truck and pull into the slower lane, it is revealed that the aggressive, road-raging tailgating SUV was sporting a Jesus fish or a "Peace is Patriotic" bumper sticker. I stopped twice at rest-stops, but I couldn't leave the rats for more than a minute without fearing for their safety in the heat.

I finally got to Buttonwillow around 8:20 p.m., just in time to meet Dan, driving up from L.A., who reported happily that he'd made great time with no real traffic in his direction. On my end, I felt lucky to have survived the drive. He took possession of all the rats, and as I subsequently learned, managed to well document his time with them before passing them over to the RMCA.*

Dan regaled me with sad stories of other rat rescues, including one in which a woman died leaving 300 rats. Her father gave them to a pet store but refused to tell Dan where it was. Dan spent weeks fruitlessly calling petstores of SoCal, before he had the brainwave to offer to pay the father $200 to reveal the petstore's name. For $200, the father told only the location, but it was enough. Dan refused to pay up and found the rats, which were still alive, and the petstore owner was glad to give back the rats.

After Dan took off with my adorable little travelling companions, I was left in Buttonwillow, which appears to be a small conglomeration of businesses serving truckers and people transporting horses. I tried eating at Denny's, but when no one came to take my order (I read over 20 pages of my novel while waiting), I left. I ended up getting a sandwich from Subway on verrrry stale bread and some Mike's Hard Lemonade from a gas station convenience store (again facing some difficulty in getting the teenaged retail workforce of Buttonwillow to conduct my transaction in a reasonable amount of time), which I consumed in my Motel 6 splendor. There were flies in the room, and nothing better than "Titanic" on cable. Sigh. Let's just say that there were signs posted warning that this was a dust zone. On the other hand, I heard a lot of birds in the morning, which is always pleasant, and the Motel 6 did have a pool (which I didn't get a chance to use, but still, credit must be given).

Lucy and Iris got into a fight on separate phone extensions over who was supposed to talk to me and who missed me. Lucy kept saying, over and over again, "I have something else to say! I really really miss you because it is dinner time and I am used to having dinner with you so I really really really miss you."

The next morning, I got up, pulled myself together, had a slight altercation with yet another inept teenaged customer service professional, this time at the Starbuck's, and finally, coffee and fireworks (sold very professionally by the only grown-ups I had retail dealings with in Buttonwillow) in hand, I got on the highway. Again I5 was heavily trafficked with speeding, aggressive SUVs and pick-up trucks elbowing each other past the sluggish trucks. The radio options near Bakersfield were heavily slanted towards "soft rock"; evidently, the people of Bakersfield have an insatiable appetite for soft rock and the rap stylings of "Daddy Yankee."

I got home almost exactly 24 hours after leaving, having had almost no fun, no rest, and no relaxation. I felt lonely once the rats were gone. I'm not accustomed to being alone in a crappy hotel; usually, I have my spouse to listen to my carpings and my children to entertain me.

Oh, and, completely foreseeably, we ended up keeping two of the rats for ourselves. What is not foreseeable is that we didn't keep two of the famous Petaluma rats; we kept two grown-up rats (one hooded, one rex) from the other rescue. They are now named Cutebone and Tinky Winky and live in the study. Anton is very bitter, but he agreed to this (I left it completely up to him when Iris asked to keep Cutebone, leaving the room to avoid the conversation).

What I learned: I hate driving on I5, I should never go on a roadtrip without bringing CDs or a book on tape, and crappy hotels are only fun with good company. Anton told me if I'd only asked, he'd have loaned me the book about the Cold War he's currently listening to on tape.

"But I thought that wasn't any good."
"It's good enough for I5."

If I ever do a trip like this again, I will do SOMETHING to add some entertainment value for myself. Exploring Buttonwillow is not a vacation. It's no Visalia (I once broke up a drive to Death Valley by crashing at a cheap hotel in Visalia, which was well worth the brief visit).

* See Dan's website for great pictures of the amazingly perfect babies (I am referred to here as a bit player in the rats' drama, with my name misspelled).


Green said...

Next time you have a weekend roadtrip, call MEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

As long as there's air-conditioning, I'm pleasant to be around.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I never would have thought to have called you on such short notice. If I ever have a trip without spouse/children ahead, I will call you, but you probably need more than half an hour notice.

Anonymous said...

carole, there are ways in which your writing reminds me of comic strips from the 1960s. In a good way!