Most people are quick to call in a pest controller to rid their home of rodents but one woman welcomes them with open arms.
Emma Dickson spends her spare time caring for 70 mice, between 50 and 60 rats, three gerbils and two guinea pigs.
The 22-year-old runs Rodent Rescue from a tiny house in Station Road, Polegate, with her partner Kevin Forster, 33, and friend Ross Fillery, 44.
Rodent Rescue started in February 2007 when Emma heard that a friend of a friend was going to release an unwanted pet hamster into the wild.
She said: “It wouldn’t have lasted five minutes so we went to collect it.
“In the car I jokingly said we should call ourselves Rodent Rescue and it went from there.
“I fell in love with rats as a child because we didn’t have much space in our home so they were the perfect pet.”
Weeks later, the trio collected 14 unwanted rats. But six of the seven female rats were pregnant, producing 49 babies.
Miss Dickson, who works part time at TJ Hughes in Eastbourne, spends her days off caring for the rodents.
The trio try to find foster homes for the animals and place adverts in local newspapers seeking conscientious owners.
All new owners are given a starter pack with information on how to care for their new pet. Miss Dickson also provides her phone number, in case the owners need advice.
She said: “When we’re given a rat, nine times out of ten it’s not because they’re not loved, it’s because people are not educated properly.
“For example, a lot of our guys are accidents, where people have bought a boy and a girl and then, magically, there are children.
“Sometimes people see a film like Ratatouille, go out and buy a rat but after a bit no longer want it.
“Rats get bad press. Hamsters are stupid animals but rats are far more intelligent.
“They can be taught tricks and make great companions.”
The trio spend £50 a week cleaning up after the rodents but do not receive the necessary £1,000 in annual donations needed to qualify as a registered charity.
Miss Dickson said: “Sometimes Ross and Kevin have wondered why we are doing this. I’ve thought that several times but not quite as often because I’m more in love with the animals.
“My motto is: ‘There’s always room for one more.’ I cannot look at a creature and say no.”
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