DEAR JOAN: Dogs and cats are not the only pets that can use a leash. My pet rats took to the leash quite well with a little training and lots of treats.
My first, Ritty Rat, understood his leash meant freedom to roam as well as treats, such as a flake of rolled oat.
Ritty would hold still for me to unhook the leash when it was time to go home, which meant back to his cage where his nightly salad of fresh greens and yummies — a bit of hard-boiled egg or tuna and tiny pieces of fruit — would be waiting for him.
Grapes were Ritty’s favorite. He would pick one up in his front paws, stand, then dance in circles on his hind feet, holding his treasured grape in front of him. He did this on his own for sheer joy. I never taught him to dance.
After Ritty, I had brothers Jiggs and Jonesy. They tolerated the leash, but were not as good at being walked. Unlike Ritty, they tried to slip out of their leashes, and they each wanted to go in different directions, often trying to hide under and climb up into bushes.
One night we were coming home from a walk at the edge of the Bay at the same time other people were coming into my gated community. Some were quite happy to see rats being walked, but one woman had a strong negative reaction to rats in general.
That was too bad, as rats are sweet-tempered, smart, affectionate and easily trained with kindness and food treats. Jiggs and Jonesy would literally jump through hoops for a lick of smooshed banana off my fingertip.
When I said “find it,” they knew there was a half peanut waiting for them deep in my pocket. I taught them by letting them smell the peanut and holding my pocket like a cave opening, while saying over and over, “Find it!” They learned that the very first time.
It became one of our games. They would hop from foot to foot in anticipation, but they always held back until I gave the “Find it!” command
I miss them.
DEAR JAQI: You certainly have shown a loving side of rats that most of us overlook. Ritty, Jigs and Jonesy were lucky to have you, as you were to have them.
DEAR JOAN: We have two tomato plants in pots. All of a sudden there are big bites out of the tomatoes when they ripen.
I saw something run away but couldn’t see what it was.
This has happened again and again. I think it is a rat, but do they like fruit? What can we do?
DEAR SHARON: There is very little that rats don’t like, and they certainly will indulge in fresh fruit and vegetables.
If you are seeing these creatures during the day, chances are they aren’t rats, which prefer to work under the cover of darkness. Instead, I’d say you have squirrel issues.
Tree squirrels are tempted by fruits of all sorts, including tomatoes. Their tendency, however, is to pluck the fruit off the vine and dash back to their nests. I think your tomato destroyer is a ground squirrel. Reporting from experience, this is just the type of thing they do.
Ground squirrels are active in the day. They often take just a few bites from a fruit or vegetable, then move on to another. Because of this, they do a lot of damage in a garden.
Exclusion — building a sturdy cage around your plants — is your best option.