As I drove along Route 17 West with a small cardboard box snuggly fastened to the passenger seat with a seatbelt, I wasn’t exactly sure what I had gotten myself into.
Inside the box sat a small, two-toned rat that I bought for less than $10, who, from the sound of it, was quite startled by the sounds and movements of my Honda Civic hurtling down the freeway.
I grew up with pets, first a cat, Peewee, and then eventually a scraggly terrier mutt, Hopper. As an only child Hopper was my closest friend growing up and we had a great time together until he passed away from cancer at the age of 12.
Since his passing I have missed some of the traits that I admire most about animals, the fierce loyalty, the unbridled excitement to see you when you walk through the front door, and their joy when given a treat. I have wanted to once again own a pet for years but because I live in a small, upstairs apartment and work irregular hours, another dog just wasn’t in the cards.
So back in February I began researching what goes into owning a small mammal. I wanted something that I could connect with but wouldn’t require constant attention because I am out of the house for most of the day. From everything I read, rats were what I was looking for, smart, personable, independent, and easy to care for.
So I decided to pick out a rat. At a local Binghamton pet store an employee opened a large glass tank where about 8-10 rats were busy sleeping, none of them taking seemingly any notice in the humans towering above them. Then a small female with a large brown spot on her back, tentatively approached the side of the tank and greeted us by curiously sniffing in the air. I picked her up and when she immediately burrowed into my jacket it was settled, I was getting this rat.
The 10 months since I brought home Olive have been great, but not always smooth. As soon as Olive got home she scurried into her hutch and didn’t reemerge for several days, except to hoard food into her shelter. When I tried to feed her a treat and earn her trust, she lunged and bit me, clearly afraid of her new surroundings.
Then a whole new problem emerged when one morning—about a week after I bought her– I awoke to a chorus of tiny squeaking noises. Olive had given birth to a litter of 10. This was an unexpected and overwhelming development that ultimately worked out for the best. I ended up keeping two of the girl rats as cage mates, OJ, and Ellie, and my girlfriend kept three of the boys, Linus, Loaf and Scooby.
Since then, owning pet rats has been nothing short of an awesome experience. Rats are curious, grateful, independent creatures who appreciate attention but also require space. When you get home, there they are, excited to see you and craving attention. But after sitting with them for about 15 minutes, they’re off to other things, sleeping, climbing, chewing. They truly give you the best of them without asking for much in return, water, a warm place to sleep, and food.
For anybody considering a first pet for their child I could not recommend rats more highly. The easy upkeep is ideal for introducing kids to the responsibilities of owning a pet and the connection they will make with their pet rat will be a valuable experience.
Follow Andrew Thayer on Twitter @Andrew_Thayer.