Dawn Burke had always thought of rats as filthy animals, she says, until her neighbor introduced her to his "soft and cuddly" pet rats. Years later, she stopped by a pet shop on a whim — and ended up coming home with a rat of her own.
From there, says Dawn's husband, Don Burke, "it grew very quickly from one rat to 72." Before long, the couple had opened a rat sanctuary in their home in Boise, Idaho.
They now keep only nine rats at a time, but their home has been called the "Taj Mahal for rats" — and they like it that way. The rats they take in have been used in labs, Dawn says, or raised as snake food and then thrown away. "We're trying to make up for what they've been through," she says.
"Sometimes people don't realize just what rats can become," Don adds. "They can be very warm companions."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.