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Couple Starts First Official Rat Sanctuary in U.S.

ByKristine AllingtonNOVA NextNOVA Next

Produced by Jud Esty-Kendall for StoryCorps

“It’s like the Taj Mahal for rats.”

In 2008, Dawn Burke and her husband, Don, decided to start The Rat Retreat—a sanctuary in their home in Boise, Idaho, where they care for mistreated, sick, or unwanted rats.

“It grew very quickly, from one rat to 72,” Don said.

The intensity of Dawn’s affection for rats might surprise the most passionate of animal lovers—Dawn would let one rat, Annie, clean the food out of her teeth.

“People call it their ‘heart rat,’ that one rat that they never forget. Everybody loved her [Annie] so much,” Dawn said.


Dawn Burke with Annie, her “heart rat,” in 2009.

The two came to StoryCorps to talk about how the project got started.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Dawn and Don Burke