CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) –
A Southeast student just got through her sophomore year a lot easier thanks to some support from some uncommon friends that live with her.
While many people are comforted from common animals such as dogs and cats, Jessica Strunk, 20, gets her emotional support from her two pet rats, Nala and Araali.
“They are known to be very sweet,” Strunk said. “People are always worried about getting bit but they rarely bite and have never bit me.”
So how do rats help Strunk succeed in school?
Strunk said since they are uncommon friends, it makes for a unique way to start a conversation with others, which she said helps her socially.
Strunk suffers from anxiety and depression. Last year, she said it was a hard first year of college for her, and she didn’t know how to cope very well.
“I had a lot of problems,” Strunk said. “I even had a hard time getting out of bed.”
Things turned around for her when she got her new two friends. She said she has improved a lot in her sophomore year, in both academics and socially in life.
“They have helped me stay focused,” Strunk said. “I’ve made a lot more friends and having them has helped boost me up to do a lot more.”
Her freshman year, she made only two friends, but in her sophomore year, she made closer to 20; and it’s all thanks to the rats.
“It’s really easy to talk about them because when the hear you have rats, they want to hear about them,” Strunk said.
We spoke with Dr. Sean Byrd at Skyview Animal Clinic in Cape Girardeau. He wasn’t surprised about rats being a pet but hasn’t heard of a rat to help someone this much before.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard about it to this degree,” Dr. Byrd said. “I’ve definitely seen the benefits of a rat as a pet but nothing to this degree. I think it’s awesome.”
Dr. Byrd said they actually see quite a few rats as pets come in their clinic, and that number has increased over the years.
“It surprised me when I first started how much of a personality these little guys have,” Dr. Byrd said. “We think about them as pests but the reality is these rats have been bred for domestication, and they’re pets! They’ll sleep with owners and run around the house, just like a cat or a dog.”
It’s getting more common to see a pet rat.
Dr. Byrd said he sees one about once a month now, whereas five years ago, he never saw one come in.
“When I see somebody bring in a pet rat in here for medical help, the way that owner looks and talks about that pet rat is not any different than the way somebody else may talk about their cat or their dog,” Dr. Byrd added. “To them it’s just as much of a family member as a cat or a dog.”
While some think of rats as pests, Dr. Byrd said these little animals have blossomed and bred as household animals.
“These rats are being bred. They’re not ones they’re finding,” Dr. Byrd said. “They’re being bred at rat breeders and there’s even designer breeds now.”
As for Strunk, having her pet rats there with her in her dorm room has some others feel a little bit uncomfortable at first.
“I haven’t had a roommate in a year,” Strunk said. “People hear the word rats and don’t want to be a part of that.”
Strunk said it’s actually more helpful living alone with her furry friends as she prefers it this way. But the others living on her floor she says accepts them like family.
“All my friends see them as everyone’s babies,” Strunk said. “If people never met a rat, they don’t like them. But with these, they fall in love with them.”
Strunk said the university approved her having these pet animals, and they stay with her in her dorm room as part of her therapy.
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