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The Misunderstood Rat

Updated on December 27, 2013

Jeremy had large, yellowing teeth. His hands were balled into tight fists and he rested his large head on them. Curled up by himself inside a purple tube, he seemed to lack interest in his surroundings. I imagined he was resigned to being alone and hairy, had even perhaps given up on life, so I took him home. He is a "fancy rat" - that's right, fancy.

The rats' reputation precedes them and I am often confronted with shock and disgust when I come out as having a companion rat. I may as well be bragging about hanging out with a few hundred roaches, but that's an entirely different blog entry (coming soon).

The fact of the matter is, rats make excellent pets. I rather cringe at the term "pets". I rarely refer to my dogs as pets and prefer to think of the animals in my home as companions; little beings for whom I am responsible, like children, or buddies who rely on me for their care. A rat is not much different from a dog. Jeremy's intellect is considered far above that of similar rodents like gerbils or hamsters. True story: hamsters want to kill us, but they aren't smart enough so they just bite us a lot. If you die and your hamster figures out how to escape his Habitrail, I have little doubt that he will eat you. Hamsters can't help it.

Jeremy is not camera shy.
Jeremy is not camera shy.

Rats learn their names, or at the very least, will run to you when you scritch-scratch with your fingertips. Once they've gotten to know you, they will bound to you like a dog. Jeremy responds to his name, or at least the sound of my voice, and checks in frequently by scaling me like a rock wall when he is having free time to stretch his little legs on my bed or on the backyard porch swing.

Rats, when adopted at a young age, rarely bite if handled with kindness and regularity. They learn to ride on the shoulders of their companion humans, carefully take small treats from your hand, and seem to love interacting with people. Rats are altruistic and share their chocolate!

Because of Jeremy's intelligence, I am filled with guilt for keeping him in an aquarium. He has a little wooden shelter, soft, fluffy bedding, food dishes I ensure are always full, fresh water and a secure lid because my dogs would like nothing more than to eat him like a fuzzy little Twinkie. Sadly, despite being fairly similar in temperament, the rat must be caged while the dog has free reign of the house. In short, these bright little guys must be protected from their environment.

Sadly, it is too late to protect them from the toxic environment their kin have to endure on a regular basis. The rat, because her system is similar to ours in many ways, is an excellent candidate for the testing of new drugs, foods, cosmetics...nearly everything you can imagine throwing at these little critters. So they can get cancer. They get it a lot. My rat buddy, Claire Peabody, developed a tumor so large it looked like a second head. I had the vet remove it surgically, which wasn't cheap. It improved her quality of life, but her life span was reduced because the cancer had taken its toll. I understand the need to test drugs. I understand the great advances that have been made because we can inject these animals with potential cancer cures, ways to battle alzheimer's and any number of incredible yet experimental antidotes to the things that cause great human suffering. Yes, we might trade the life of a rat, or even several hundred rats for the life of a parent, child or loved one. I just ask that we give these noble creatures the respect they are due. They are unwitting soldiers in the march of progress.

Jeremy enjoys a yogurt treat in his house.
Jeremy enjoys a yogurt treat in his house.

You know those big rats you run into outside the 9:30 Club in DC or in an alley in New York? The ones you mistake for a rottweiler? Well these are not fancy rats. Indeed they aren't fancy at all. Clever but uncouth is how I imagine these city rats, holding belching contests and generally behaving like hoodlums, or frat boys. My Jeremy is no such rat. He washes himself meticulously and my concern that he may have deep-seated OCD is only overshadowed by the fact that he poops in his food dish. Beyond that, he is the picture of a cultured gentleman, cleaning himself from the tip of his long, hairless tail (helps him with balance, but no, won't help him win any beauty contests), to his humorously long, whiskered nose (the better to balance a tiny pair of bifocals), he spends much of his waking life tidying himself up.

So wrest yourself of the idea that rats are plague carrying vermin whose place is on a billboard for your local exterminator. Gone are the days when these short-legged chocolate lovers had to stowaway on ships, exposed to black plague carrying fleas only to be greeted on foreign shores by angry townspeople declaring they were diseased and unpleasant, without a friendly hand offering a peanut or a yogurt treat. An unfit greeting to be sure. They had to fend for themselves, pulling themselves up by their very tiny bootstraps.

When I got Jeremy home he quickly became a member of the family. I feed him a store-bought rat food diet, nuts, grains and fruit, and supplement it with broccolli (a cancer fighter), banana and his favorite yogurt treats. I give him daily exercise by letting him run around or taking him outside on my shoulder. He doesn't bite or give me the plague or even have bad breath. He is not above using toilet paper as a bed. In short, he is a lovely little member of the household. So when your child begs you for a bunny (cute but frail as spun glass) or a hamster (bloodthirsty and not so bright), think of Jeremy and his misunderstood brethren, and bring your child home a rodent he can love and who will truly love him back.


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    • kikinusbaumer profile imageAUTHOR

      Kiki Nusbaumer 

      5 years ago from Chesterfield, VA

      Sorry to offend! I was wrong to generalize. While my experience with hamsters has been rather bleak, I have heard many endearing stories. Maybe I was a lousy hamster mom. And I hope the hamster community will forgive me for using them as comedic fodder. I respect and love all animals! Sorry for the loss of your little guy.

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie Marie 

      5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      You know, I was on board with this until the hamster bashing began. ;-) My hamsters were smart, adorable, loving creatures. One of my hamsters broke out quite often and was happy to bring out all my socks from behind my dresser each time she escaped. Since she passed away, I have to get my own socks that fall behind the dresser.

      With that said, I agree that rats are wonderful as well. Rodents are smart little creatures that deserve much more credit than they get. Your rat is quite adorable. Voted up!

    • kikinusbaumer profile imageAUTHOR

      Kiki Nusbaumer 

      5 years ago from Chesterfield, VA

      How kind you all are! I will tell Jeremy immediately. And by all means go adopt a rat!

    • Trisha Roberts profile image

      Trisha Roberts 

      5 years ago from Rensselaer, New York

      Aww I think Jeremy is adorable! I know when I was a kid. (My mother wasn't happy with me) lol, but I used to breed and raise hamsters, I know they aren't exactly rats, but very related. I had at one time up to 22 hamsters.. Numerous cages. I used to adopt them out to parents who would like a hamster for their child's first pet. I think Rats, Mice, Hamsters ect, are wonderful pets. My main hamster I had used to sleep on my pillow with me lol. They are very smart little ones when you give them the chance to test out their abilities :)

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      5 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      This was cute and funny. I had always questioned the idea of Scabbers, Ron Weasley's pet rat, since I'd always thought of these guys as dirty. You've shown me a whole new side to the little critters. Although, I think my dogs will always regard them as "fuzzy little Twinkies".

    • travmaj profile image


      5 years ago from australia

      A delightful, well written piece. I've never had a rat for a pet but after meeting Jeremy I could be persuaded. (although my dog might not be impressed) I enjoyed reading about Jeremy and your love and care of him come shining through your words. I'm so happy for you that you gave him a caring home and for Jeremy who benefits. Thanks - Voting.

    • moonlake profile image


      5 years ago from America

      I had a rat when I was a kid. I taught her to run for cover if she heard the whisle I would blow. I could take her outside and she never ran off she stayed right with me. I loved that rat. I think they make great pets and they're smart. Our kids had Hamsters, dumb little animals I always thought. They even had white mice also not the greatest pet. We never bought our kids a rat because there was never a place to buy them in our town. Enjoyed reading about your Jeremy. Voted up.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      5 years ago from Oakley, CA

      What a sweet story about a cute little rattie!

      I have heard that rats do make very clean and intelligent pets, and can be a lot of fun. It does distress me that any animals are still used in medical testing, in this day and age of computer models, and petri-dish dna research...

      I've never had a rat, but when my elder daughter was in her senior year of high school, she got a couple of Guinea Pigs. They, too, are a lot of fun, don't generally bite, and have very distinct personalities, and super-sharp hearing! They could hear the lettuce being opened from all the way upstairs at the other end of the house, and would begin their begging, "wheep! wheep!" noises, waiting excitedly by their cage door for the treat.

      We also set up a maze with wooden kindergarten blocks, for them to run around the exercise area of her room. They were a lot of fun.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      5 years ago from California

      We had two rats at separate times as pets. I loved them dearly and was very sad when they died--very smart--very loving pets

    • ologsinquito profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      Jeremy is so cute that he almost makes me want to have a pet rat of my own. :)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      You really are such a marvelous writer, and I really connected with your love of him. Both the humor and detail that you put into this tale of adoration are endearing. I wouldn't be opposed to having a fancy rat, although with my 4 indoor cats it certainly would be ill-advised. Three cheers for Jeremy. Sharing this hub!

    • kikinusbaumer profile imageAUTHOR

      Kiki Nusbaumer 

      5 years ago from Chesterfield, VA

      Dreamhowl, you had me at "I have two little girls..." ;0) Thanks so much for your comment! I hope patches will be OK. Sounds like they couldn't ask for a more loving home.

    • Dreamhowl profile image

      Jessica Peri 

      5 years ago from United States

      I have two little girls, Patches and Gadget, and totally agree that they have a bad reputation. My oldest Patches (over two years) has a mammary tumor the size of a large grape that we opted against removing due to her age and otherwise energetic nature. Gadget is over a year old and thankfully healthy ... aside from her sensitive nose and dry skin.

      I love them like children and am trying to feed them healthier since learning about tumors - I give them blueberries, grapes, tomatoes and other bits alongside their rat diet. I figure it will help prolong Patches' life, and hopefully prevent any unwanted growths in Gadget. And I too get some disgusted reactions from customers at work when I say I have rats, but I still advocate them over hamsters. They are much sweeter.


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