Rats. I would never, EVER have thought that I could tolerate my sons having a pet rat. The beady eyes, the snake-like tails, and a little thing called the Black Plague had biased me against rats. HOWEVER, when your eight year old son really, really wants a pet for his birthday, you try to accomodate him. So, a little over a year ago we threw on jackets and headed to Petco to purchase a furry pet for Joe.
My requirements for his pet were that it be a mammal, that it be kid-friendly, and that it fit in a smallish cage. I was thinking a hamster or a gerbil would fit that bill nicely, no? No. When the Petco associate asked us why we wanted a hamster or gerbil I stammered, "Because they're sort of cute and I think I know a little bit about what mammals require to stay alive (seeings how I am one myself and all). She said that if we were considering a small mammal for a pet she would recommend first a rat, then a mouse, then a hamster, and last (and least) a gerbil. Hmph.
So we took a look at the small female rats. We were informed that rats are clean, low-maintenance, intelligent and very friendly. They become very attached to their human owners and are trainable. I was warming up to the idea. Slowly. Our smiley Petco helper took us to the "Small Female Rat" terrarium. It was then that we first layed eyes on the rat that would change everything, Winky.
Winky is about 6 inches long (not including her tail) and is white with a fawn colored "hood" over her head. Unlike many white rats, Winky has dark eyes, which to me make her seem less ratty. She is the perfect pet. In fact, in their behavior rats remind me of very friendly, silent and tiny cats. Winky rides on my son's shoulder while he plays outside and hangs out in his hoodie when he watches TV. She will hold still so that you can stroke her chin, ears and back. And I don't need Pat Robertson to tell me that Winky has made a pact with the devil so that our cats don't even bother to eat her.
Since purchasing Winky we added two more rats to our brood, all females: black hooded Scabbers (named after a Harry Potter rat) and a blue fancy rat named Stella.
Buying a pet rat is a choice you can feel good about in many ways. First, mothers-in-law, as a rule, do not like rats (reason enough to buy one in my book). When you purchase a rat from a pet store you can feel a little smug about the fact that you are rescuing her from death by snake. Pet store rats, for the most part, are "feeder rats". Most of these poor dears end up dropped into a snake's tank where they meet their speedy (hopefully) demise. When your company gets a snooty look on their face when they see little Johnny running around with a rat on his shoulder, put them in their place by telling them that it's a "rescue rat".
Are you sold yet? Well here are two more pro-rat tidbits. Rats cost about $3.00 and live 3-5 years which, by the way, is the perfect lifespan for a child's pet, as children themselves have very short attention spans. Do you KNOW how long a bearded dragon lives? Too long.
So, consider the rat.