Kissy, squishy, beautiful rats at the rat fanciers’ show in Hillsboro

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Nov 15, 2015 in Rat News | Subscribe

Rats get a bad rap. As a society, we tend to think of the rodents more as sewer-dwelling plague-ridden vermin than as cute and cuddly pets.

Our local rat fanciers take issue with those misconceptions, and at their annual fall rat show in Hillsboro on Saturday, they proved that bad reputation wrong, by kissing, squishing and cooing over their beloved critters.

The “Come Fall for Rats” show took over a building at the Washington County Fair Complex, an event that showcased decorated rat cages, products and even adoptable rescue rats. It was a coming together of the local RatsPacNW community, but it was also a chance for rat owners to compete.

Judges handed out ribbons at noon for the “standards show” – focusing on the breeding of rats – but the real fun came an hour later at the “pet show.”

There, owners paraded their pets, propped cooly on their shoulders, entering them into categories like kissiest and squishiest and most beautiful rat. Winners were chosen by audience applause. The prizes were ribbons and small, hand-made crowns, which owners gleefully strapped to the heads of the rodents.

“They’re kind of like little dogs in a way,” said 12-year-old Tirzah Vest of Lake Oswego, whose rat Bastian won the kissiest crown and tied for a win in the costume contest, dressed fittingly as a king. “But they’re so sweet and cuddly.”

Tirzah brought her two pet rats with her, Bastian and Russelie. She said she and her older sister, Ari, have been keeping rats as pets for seven years. They asked their mom on a whim at the pet store one day and “it just grew into all of this,” she said, gesturing to the show bustling around her.

She’s faced some skepticism at school, she said. People think her rats are dirty, or that they bite. None of it’s true, she insisted. Rats clean themselves quite diligently, and it’s rare for a domesticated rat to actually nip at a person.

It’s important to know that there are two different kinds of rats, the wild brown rat (what you might find in a sewer) and the domesticated or “fancy” rat (which you’ll see at a rat show). Genetically they two are the same, RatsPacNW members explained, but the domesticated rats come from thousands of generations of breeding, now born with calm temperaments and coats of all colors.

“I think a lot of people think they’re dangerous, disease-ridden things,” said Shannon Neuwirth, a rat owner from Forest Grove. “People are always afraid rats will hurt them.”

She started keeping the rodents eight years ago as pets for her son, Tyler, who has autism. He was allergic to both cats and dogs, but wanted a therapy animal to calm him. Rats did the trick, offering the boy companionship and helping him cope with emotional distress.

“It’s thanks to rats that honestly I was able to get through my days,” Tyler, who’s now 14, said.

Today the family has eight rats, six of which they brought to Saturday’s event. Shannon Neuwirth is now the show coordinator and her husband, Dan, was on hand disseminating information to passersby, helping dispel those misconceptions he said are pervasive.

Even the notion that rats spread bubonic plague might be a myth he said, pointing to recent research that blames gerbils – gerbils! – for spreading the disease.

“(Rats) spread no more disease than your cat or your dog,” he said. They’re so clean, he added, that they’ll lick themselves obsessively after people touch them with their dirty, oily hands.

The folks at “Come Fall for Rats” were on the defensive when talking about their pets. They face so much fear, so much misunderstanding, they said, that broaching the topic unleashes a maddening exercise in persuasion.

Even Tirzah, whose peers are hardly hold enough to form hardened stereotypes, said she has to fight tooth and nail to convince her friends that rats are OK – that is, until they come over and see her cuddly pets for themselves. That’s when jaws drop, misconceptions fall and the “awww”s pour right out.

“You need to give (rats) a chance … they’re really life changing,” she said. “They can bring you toward other people” and “if you’re maybe sad or something they’ll always brighten your day.”

–Jamie Hale | jhale@oregonian.com | @HaleJamesB

Article source: http://www.oregonlive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2015/11/kissy_squishy_beautiful_rats.html

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