As much of a difference a single person can make in the lives and welfare of animals, a team can make a substantial impact, especially if the members of that team are passionate, driven and led by a creative go-getter. The Travelin’ Rat embodies all of that — and it demonstrates the possibilities that can arise from teamwork and an enthusiastic leader.
The group sprang from a simple introduction of two ladies who were looking for other rat owners in their area. Danielle S. and Julie D. of Maryland attended the World of Pets Expo in Timonium, Maryland in May of 2008. It was there that they discovered their common interest of wanting to help animal rescues and rats, so the brainstorming began that led to the creation of The Travelin’ Rat.
But what exactly is The Travelin’ Rat? It is a unique organization that helps rescues that take in rats, especially ones that are overlooked. They help in a multitude of ways, big and small. They are often found sitting with rescues at events to aid them in whatever way they can, even if only to give emotional support. However, they are best known for their Rescue of the Month program. The group selects one rescue that takes in rats each month and rolls up its “sleeves” to raise funds to donate to them through many creative means.
Danielle is a co-founder and the current president as well as the treasurer. “By far, the biggest way we help is by spreading the word when a rescue needs help with funds or adopters or has an event or transport and by fundraising for them,” she said. “We have helped dog and cat rescues when they asked for it, like through face-painting at an event for them. We only donate to rescues that take in rats through our Rescue of the Month program, as will be the case once we set up our Emergency Vet Fund for Rescue. We raise funds by selling items on our webpage and in our Zazzle and Etsy stores, plus we go to different animal events to sell our wares and do make-n-takes for the kids.”
Danielle’s forte is in fundraising, which is driven by her creativity and passion for rats. She has dedicated a lot of time and energy into the development and continued growth of the group. “I am responsible for all the paperwork and most of the computer work! I also set up and coordinate the events and schedule rescues for our Rescue of the Month program.”
Co-founder, Julia C. is secretary for the group. “I photograph events that we attend. I also photograph each piece of inventory available for purchase on our website,” she said. “I create the signs that we use at events, contribute to set up and bring refreshments to events for our volunteers. I also put together a write-up of each event we attend. This gets published in a magazine called ‘It’s a Rat’s World.’ I write and mail thank you cards to people who send donations, collectibles, volunteer their time, etc. to our organization. I put together our raffle baskets for all of the events as well as baskets we donate to other rescue groups for their fundraising events.”
The core strength of the organization lies with its teamwork. Each group member uses his or her individual skills and talents to carry out very specific jobs enabling The Travelin’ Rat to run as effectively as possible. Working alongside of Danielle and Julia are four other members:
Lisa B. from the West Coast is the social media director and resident seamstress. “I run The Travelin’ Rat’s Pinterest and Twitter sites as well as co-admin TTR’s Facebook page,” Lisa said. “I also sew small animal items such as hammocks and snuggle sacks for TTR’s Etsy store. One hundred percent of the net proceeds from these items go to our rescue of the month.”
Abby J. from the Midwest is the computer expert of the group. “I manage the website and create promotional fliers and designs for The Travelin’ Rat,” she said. “I also troubleshoot technical problems as well as explore new software and programs to help TTR give substance to their ideas and realize their dreams.”
Frank V. is vice president and vital to the group. He is the man who hauls all of the goods to events and is responsible for set up and break down, as well as manning the booths. He also makes beaded jewelry for TTR’s Etsy store.
Patricia G. is a highly valued volunteer who handles all of the shipping.
One more special member of the team is named Trek. He is a doll that was made and generously donated by Linda B. of The Crafty Rat. His job is to travel around the world to raise awareness for the group and what it does. Friends and rat fans have taken him in and have shown him the sights where they live, sharing stories, photos and videos of his adventures.
“Hopefully this little ambassador will also be able to educate those individuals who he comes into contact with who do not already know about the virtues of pet rats or the plight of animals in shelters and rescues,” Abby said. “Trek has his own Facebook page, which is run by all of his hosts. He has really taken on an identity of his own outside of The Travelin’ Rat. We keep a record of his exploits on his webpage photo gallery, and Danielle orchestrates his travel plans with the host volunteers. It’s been fun, and I’m pretty jealous of the adventures the little guy has had globetrotting.” Read about his travels here.
This generous group led by what seems to be a master juggler offers people a vast number of ways they can participate and contribute. “The Travelin’ Rat depends on support from the public,” Danielle said. “So we can always use donations of both cash and items — we can sell, raffle or auction them off or even put them in our ‘used items’ bin at shows where people take something then make a donation.”
She added that they have two ongoing fundraisers through Rescue Chocolate and iGive.com, and The Crafty Rat holds a sale in April and December that benefits TheTravelin’Rat, so buying from it during those months and using a special code helps them and gives buyers a discount. Other groups that have held fundraisers for them include Sandi’s Soap Scents, Denis K with Scentsy, A Side of Creativity, The Rat Attack Team and Ty’s Rat Shack. “We have a World Rat Day Raffle in the spring and a Fall Facebook Auction that helps us generate funds,” Danielle said. “We’re so grateful to all who donate to these. And spreading the word about us and what we do is huge.”
Imagine an animal rescuer sitting by a window watching a mail truck come and go as it does any other day, all the while they listen to dozens of squeaky wheels spinning away in the background with happy critters running on them. But today is different. Today a gift arrives from The Travelin’ Rat that will help put food in the bellies of those critters and help provide them with healthcare and the necessities they need. Today the rescuer is guaranteed peace of mind. He or she knows somebody cares, supports what they do and appreciates it.
Cherie Jones, founder and president of Tiny Toes Rat Rescue of New Mexico is an example of someone who has benefited from TTR’s efforts. “Many people do love animals, but not many people go out of their way to formulate a plan to help animal rescues the way The Travelin’ Rat does,” Jones said. “They’re simply wonderful! I hope that they continue to light a fire in the hearts of animal lovers everywhere and inspire them to financially support animal rescues.”
Jinna Adamson, who runs Apple Wood Rescue in Denver, rescues a variety of small pets and has also been on the receiving end of TTR help. She has gotten more followers on FB as well as cash donations for veterinary care and supplies due to its efforts. She loves that TTR products are both for critters and people and that they run a sponsorship for a month. “Most online fundraisers that I’ve participated in will only last one or two weeks,” Adamson said. “Having an entire month to promote and post about the event certainly helps generate more interest.”
As for the future, everyone in the group hopes to expand so that they can help more rescues. Danielle dreams of having a TTR East, TTR West, TTR Australia, etc. But she admits that would be quite an undertaking. She has said that she would like TTR to be able to travel to events outside of the Mid-Atlantic region.
Abby shares Danielle’s perspective about the organization’s future and its challenges, “I see a common problem with small businesses — in our case small charity — in a virtual world,” she said. “There are many advantages to having so much information at our fingertips but just as many opportunities to get lost in the crowd. These are the obstacles that we are facing right now: how to be noticed in a virtual setting, how to raise awareness, and how to encourage people to become part of our community. With perseverance and hard work, I hope we can keep on keeping on and continue to share our love of rats and grow to be a bigger and better source of support for small animal rescues.”