When we first brought him home from the pet store, we put him in the basement with the hamster and had limited contact with him. I soon noticed that whenever we went downstairs, unlike the hamster, who ignored me and spun on his wheel, the rat would stand up on his hind legs, cock his head to one side, and try to make eye contact. Even my husband, who largely ignores the small animal population at our house, began talking to him.
I decided that the rat seemed sad and discussed my concern with a rat-loving friend of mine. She told me that pet rats have been described as pocket dogs and need frequent attention to be happy. Social animals, they are often sold in pairs so that they don't get lonely.
As a result of that discussion, we moved the rat into my boys' bedroom. He seems much happier upstairs. I talk to him daily. He is inquisitive about any activity that surrounds him, and with three kids in the house, there's quite a lot of activity. We started buying him dog toys, soft things that he can shred and tear and sleep on.
And that brings me to the point of this essay: Rats make nice pets.
Frankly speaking, rats get a bad rap. A recent headline in The Independent screamed, "Bubonic plague-carrying fleas found on New York City rats." What a misleading headline! One would assume that we are headed straight for an epidemic of the plague. The actual article reveals that the rats were found to carry the type of fleas that transmit the disease, not the disease itself.
Another recent article - this one in The Guardian - suggests that giant gerbils, not rats, may have been the source of the Black Death. As reported by the BBC, a team of researchers from Norway "now plans to analyse plague bacteria DNA taken from ancient skeletons across Europe. If the genetic material shows a large amount of variation, it would suggest the team's theory is correct. Different waves of the plague coming from Asia would show more differences than a strain that emerged from a rat reservoir."
So, the next time that someone tells you that they have a pet rat, try to keep an open mind. You might find that they aren't so bad after all.