Rats support Southeast student

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Apr 27, 2016 in Rat News | Subscribe

Jessica Strunk, a sophomore at Southeast Missouri State University, has emotional support pet rats in her dorm room.

Strunk grew up around dogs and works at the local animal hospital in her hometown. She said it’s hard for her to be away from home and animals for the first time.

“I thought it would help a lot with depression, because if you have living things counting on you, you got to get out of bed and take care of them,” Strunk said.

She did research on all types of emotional support animals and found rats to be clean, smart, nice, quiet and low maintenance. The cage is cleaned once a week and food pellets are bought once a month, but rats can eat most things people can.

“Also I got rats because they have a lifespan of about three years, and since I got them this year and I got two more years and it just worked out,” Strunk said. “By then I’ll be graduating, and I don’t know where I’m gonna be from there.”

She got her rats, Nala and Araali, when they were 1 month old. She named Araali after a lion from a big cat sanctuary in Texas.

“They are very sweet actually, they kind of treat you like you’re a big rat. They will groom you,” Strunk said. “When they were babies it was so cute because they were learning how to interact with me, and that was so much fun to watch, because if one of them would nibble a little bit and if they would bite down a little too hard, you squeak, because that’s how they let each other know, ‘Ow, that hurts, don’t do that,’ and that’s how they learned.”

Nala and Araali are 9 months old now. They know their names and Strunk is training them to spin. Both rats have very different personalities though. Nala has taken over the igloo and nests in it with all the newspaper she can find. She also likes to steal treats and hide them in her nest.

“Nala is technically the dominant one, and Araali lets her think she’s the dominant one, but Araali is too smart for her own good,” Strunk said.

Araali takes Nala’s treat while Nala takes hers to keep everyone happy. They even have different tastes. Araali loves sweet things, like whipped cream, and Nala likes banana chips, Strunk said.

“I even know how to give them the Heimlich just in case,” Strunk said.

There’s only one hospital within 15 miles that will even see rats. So luckily, they haven’t had any problems.

Most people think “rat,” and think about diseases and bites, but they clean themselves more than cats do. Friends and floormates who have taken the time to get to know them love them. Strunk’s floormates all treat them like children and have a small community around them.

Strunk said her mom doesn’t mind them as long as she doesn’t see them or smell them. Her grandmother made a small clubhouse for the rats, along with little hammocks for them.

“You got to think seriously about money and the time it takes if you are really ready for it. Because I’m super busy, but I still have enough time to take care of them and give them a little attention every day,” Strunk said. “You can make them toys with toilet paper rolls, and they love chopsticks to chew on. If you get creative, it’s not too bad.”

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