Owning rats, or as some say, being owned by rats, is a journey. For me it began with being intensely rat-phobic to where I am now, rat-obsessed (ok, i admit it).


The beginning

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I owe a great debt to a little rat that I don't even have one picture of. He didn't even get much of a name, Ratty. Even though we knew nothing about rats he lived to be almost 5. He will always be my angel. The picture on the left is one I borrowed from the internet because it looks like Ratty. The sketch was a design for a carved eraser rubber stamp in his honor.

B.R. (Before Ratty) I was extremely ratphobic. I panicked at just the thought of being in the same room with one. I had had mice growing up, but imagining a rat as a pet was beyond me.

I think it was the early 1990's, sometime when my son was in elementary school. His classroom rat had had babies and he begged me to bring one home. I refused at first, but after much pleading on his part, I relented... on ONE condition. NO pink-eyed white rats!!

As you've probably already guessed, Chris got the last baby rat and it was a little pink-eyed white baby boy. YUK.

I told him he had to keep it in his room, I never wanted to see it, hear it or smell it, it was completely his responsibility...YADA, YADA (fill in more parental nonsense here).

A couple of months later, John discovered Ratty without water in Chris' room, desperately dehydrated. After that I brought Ratty out to the kitchen and took care of his basic needs, but still was careful not to let him touch me. Chris managed to get me to gingerly pet him once, but that was more than enough for me. I did talk to him, though, and called him by name. He would wait at the bars like a little prisoner and I felt sorry for him.

One day he got out of his cage and was racing across the kitchen floor. In my past experience with small creatures, once they were out of the cage you were on a day-long journey trying to coax or catch an unwilling and fast critter into a box or some such thing. Without thinking I said "RATTY!" really loudly. To my absolute stunned amazement, he turned around and came right to me like a little dog and let me pick him up and put him back in his cage. After that I did a complete turnaround. I tried to learn more about rats, but at the time there really wasn't a lot of information anywhere. I didn't know that rats really need another rat companion. I still feel guilty thinking about how lonely he must have been.

When he died I was devastated. I decided I couldn't keep rats as pets anymore. Someone recently referred to them as the "Heartbreak Pet" because of the combination of incredible personality and short life-span and thats how I felt. For the next 10 years or so I kept my fond memory of Ratty, but rats were not a part of my life.

Then, due to a strange quirk of fate, it all changed.

I am an artist and teacher and in 2001/2002 I had a position as a visiting artist where I taught art in a third-grade classroom. I also have a permanent position working with girls in a non-profit after-school program in East Palo Alto, CA - a predominantly low-income, ethnically diverse community. Since we are usually underfunded (as most non-profits are), many of the teachers in the higher-income schools I went into would donate items. This particular school was renovating and getting rid of several things.

My back was turned and the teacher said "Do you want some mice?". Now you have to understand, my position at the afterschool program is Art and Technology Coordinator, so when I heard "mice" I was thinking the round plastic thing that attaches to a computer. I said "Sure, we can always use mice!"

The teacher was so happy. She went on and on about how glad she was that someone could take them, that all the students had bailed out at the last minute and she hadn't known what she was going to do, etc... etc...

Uh, oh...

Oreo and Mischief came home with me. I was delighted with them and could watch them for hours. I devised wondrous scenes and homemade toys for them when I cleaned their cage out. I joined an email list to find out more about how to care for them. They were sweet and would let you hold and pet them, but were much too busy to stay for long. I realized that I wanted something more. I wanted rats again.

2003. Enter Penelope and Bon-Bon from 3 Girls Rattery in Washington, officially known by their breeder designations as 3GR Lioness and 3GR Bon-Bon (that's them together looking out of their cage door when they were babies). I can't write much about them right now because I lost them both this year just as they were approaching their 2nd birthdays and it is too painful. Penelope, the black and white one with the jester blaze, was my very special girl and I still miss her every day. Bon was a curmudgeonly little girl and I miss her rattie ways and her strong presence.

Next came Gigi and Dinky.

This is Gigi's baby picture. Gigi was a Russian Blue self from Lil' Rugrats Rattery, formerly in Davis, CA. She died very suddenly at 8 months of a stroke. It was one of the most traumatic experiences I have ever had and I hope I never have to see another rat go through what she did.

Gigi was actually G.G., short for Goofy Girl because she was such a silly and playful baby. She was extremely affectionate. John used to say she had the spittiest kisses of any rat he knew. She would brux and boggle at me (rattie equivalent of a cat purring and kneading) from the corner of the cage nearest to my computer until I couldn't resist and would take her out of the cage. She loved to wrassle with your hands and do rodentistry and was an escape artist.

I never got a grown-up picture of her, but I think she would have looked like the rat on the red background (only with dumbo ears)

Her sister, Dinky, a mink self, is extremely sweet and very kissy, but much more shy. She is still alive and doing great. She will be two on February 3, 2006. She used to be the runt, but she has gotten quite squishy lately. She loves to climb in my shirt to be petted and waddle around looking for food that may have gotten dropped. She has dinky little eyes with light areas around them that make her look as if she's wearing goggles. She is one of the most endearing rats I have ever met.

Eventually, after Bon and Gigi died, I decided to adopt some rescue rats from Rattie Ratz.

Enter Pickles (black Berkshire with little white gloves) and Bailey (cinnamon agouti Berkshire). They were literally scared shitless when I adopted them and fear-pooped regularly for about the first week whenever we took them out. The day I adopted them, Bailey let loose a load of the most evil-smelling poop I have ever smelled on the front of my shirt. It was so bad that I had to stop at Ross and buy a new shirt so I could change before I could stand to drive home.

They have really come around since then and are very friendly with us, but I'm sad for them that they never got the early socialization that they needed to feel truly comfortable around humans. If I ever find myself in a time when I am without rats I will foster to ensure that rescue rats get the kind of early socialization they need.

Around the same time, I came across a listing in Craigslist, looking for a home for a lone girl rattie, one-year old, who had just lost her elderly cagemate. The woman who posted the ad had a small child and was pregnant and just didn't feel that she could give her the time and attention she wanted to. I figured that since she was about the same age as Dinky she would be a good pal for Dinks. Welcome Luna (formerly Sweetie). I found out later that she had originally come from one of the breeders we got our boys from, Linda B. of the Crafty Rat.

Bunnyman got his wierd name because he is a weird rat and he has weird rat parents. I wanted a name that captured his sweetness and his craziness and he has these unusually big back feet and hops around like a bunny rabbit when he plays so I thought "Bunny".

John (my SO) said "nope...sounds like a girl's name, that won't work". He was thinking names like "Chopper" and "Spike" because he said that B-man looked like he came from the wrong side of the tracks with his wacky hair and sort of manly burliness.

"Well, what could we add to Bunny to make it sound more manly?" I asked.


I laughed so hard, but you know, in some wierd way it fit and so it is.


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  • Portland, OR, United States
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