The Truth About Pet Rats

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jul 15, 2018 in Rat News | Subscribe

SleepyratsShelly and AudreyPhoto: Mackenzie Manley

As a young kid, my favorite book series was Geronimo Stilton, about a journalist and editor at The Rodent’s Gazette, located in New Mouse City on Mouse Island. In many of ways I became the embodiment of Stilton’s persona: frenetic, nervous, mild-mannered and drowning in coffee-stained newsprint. Although I did not become nor have I ever been a rat, I do own a pair: Shelly and Audrey.

In retrospect, Stilton wasn’t my only rodent icon. See: Remy from Ratatouille, Bernard and Miss Bianca from The Rescuers, cracker-dunking Roquefort from The Aristocats and, honestly, the mice from Cinderella are the only entertaining bits in the film.

Strong, able-minded rodents dominated my childhood. They ate cheese sans guilt and taunted the Tom cats of the world. They scurried across wood floors as suburban mothers screamed, swatting their brooms, and in the case of little dudes like Stuart Little, they were accepted and beloved members of the household.

Like Little, my rats Shelly and Audrey fall into the latter category.

Named after Twin Peaks characters, my girls are as playful as they are curious. When I open the door to their two-level cage, they scurry to my hand — first, checking for food. If they find none, they scurry up my arm and across my shoulder. Or they bolt across the floor for the darkest cranny available. Place them back in their cage and they’ll likely curl into their hammock with ears perked and eyes wide.

To me, they have the temperament of small dogs. They mostly want treats — be it a slice of cracker, seeds, a bit of fruit or dry pasta (contrary to popular myth, cheese is not their favorite delicacy) — and attention.

Hungryrats

Upon arriving home, they’ll crawl out of bed, stretch their bodies and yawn as they put both their paws up to cage. Twin stares blink back at me. Most days, I reach in and take turns cradling them; I scratch them between their oval, pink-tinged ears. When I hold one, the other waits by the edge of its home to be picked up next.

Like me, they never finish meals in one sitting. Instead, they grab copious amounts of their dinner and scatter it throughout cage, munching on it for hours. Unlike me, they never really leave leftovers.

Like their pop culture contemporaries, they are witty and intelligent beyond their small frame. They learned how to unlock their first cage: Joining forces, Shelly and Audrey would lift upward and slightly back before lunging out of the cage and into the metropolis of my apartment.

Rats are also layered in urban mythos of horror. Their tails are long and snake-like. Their mouths opens to reveal a pair of sharp incisors. They’re said to sneak into bedrooms and bite, drawing blood. They steal crumbs and leave behind poop in spite. With no birth control introduced into their society of vagabonds, they multiply by the hundreds. They climb avidly along any surface — my own rats can frequently be seen dangling from the top of their cage.

My rats, however, don’t fit that horror narrative.

Their tails are long, but they opt to curl them lovingly around your wrist. And their teeth are sharp, but the most they do with them is nibble at the edges of my fingernails. They are not unlike Geromino Stilton in that newspapers are an integral part of their lives; I line my college’s newspaper, where I’m Editor-in-Chief, along the floorboards. They rip it to shreds and use it as nesting material in their hammock.

Maybe newsprint isn’t dead — maybe we’re just using it wrong?

They are not scary like their classic depiction may suggest. Tricksters, sure. Bloodthirsty, miss me with that narrative.

I place Shelly on my friend’s hand. For a moment, her brain processes the scenario: whiskers brush against my friend’s wrist and tiny fingernails search around the edges of his hoodie. He laughs. Shelly ducks into the fabric, crawling upward, and emerges from the top. She stays there for a moment, blinking her eyes.

I place Audrey on my chest and scratch her head and watch her eyelids come to a close. In Geronimo Stilton, all he wants is a slice of relaxation. As both Shelly and Audrey curl together in the same bed, tails entangled and their tiny chests rising and falling in harmony, I’d say they want the same — a life of decadence, chillness and companionship. 

Article source: https://www.citybeat.com/special-sections/blog/20991936/the-truth-about-pet-rats

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