by Stephanie Cameron
Stephanie Cameron is a volunteer with Rattie Ratz Rescue in the bay area of California. Each month KRL will be featuring a column from Rattie Ratz.
As Halloween is right around the corner, I started pondering on the reason why rats are such a favorite animal in a lot of Halloween folklore and why they’re still such a popular animal to display next to the fibrous spider webs, scream masks and hanging ghosts in the local holiday stores.
Rats are crepuscular, meaning that in their natural environment they are most active at dawn and dusk, but are prevalently seen at night. The association of rats being an animal of the night lends them a veil of mystery. Rats quite like places that people don’t inhabit, like a dilapidated house in the woods – haunted house anyone? Rats are very smart and resourceful and are quick to adapt which can make it difficult to remove them from a location they shouldn’t be inhabiting.
Rats are thought to be dangerous and are feared because of their misplaced association with epidemics like the plague and for being aggressive, which makes them a perfectly creepy animal to play up in the horror genre. Recent studies have debunked the myth that rats exacerbated spreading of the plague. It was, in fact, the deplorable living and sanitary conditions of people that were the leading cause of spreading the plague. Rats did not help spread the plague any more than every other animal (humans included) and were unfairly used as scapegoats. Rats are naturally very clean animals that groom themselves just as much if not more than cats and are very smart and resourceful. An abandoned house is an easy shelter for a rat; it’s an easy meal ticket with a cozy warm bed just around the corner. Because of these misguided myths and stereotypes rats are often feared and misunderstood.
Rattie Ratz Rescue does their best to dispel the myths and show the truth behind rats. Pet rats have been domesticized for hundreds of years and the first wide -scale capture of wild rats is thought to have started in the 18th century. Although these rats were often caught for inhumane reasons, like rat pits, the appearance of rare colorings such as the albino and black hooded, sparked the beginning of people keeping rats as pets.
Over time, the domestication of rats developed as certain behavioral and coat characteristics were sought after through specific breeding programs. In the 21st century, domestic rats have evolved to a point where they make wonderful family pets. Comparing a domesticated and wild rat in today’s day and age is like comparing a wolf to the little poodle that sits on my couch all day – they may share some distant traits and physical characteristics, but they are very different animals! Comparing them is not fair to either animal.
In July, a litter of babies found their way into Rattie Ratz Rescue after a family had an “oops” litter and needed help placing the babies. Of these, two boys in particular stood out as being exceptionally calm. I had recently lost some of my senior rats so I decided to adopt these two boys. To be so calm at such a young age, I knew they would be wonderful Ambassador Rats – and of course I fell in love with them immediately! Our Ambassador Rats are not available for adoption, as they are the personal pets to one of our volunteers within the rescue. We bring Ambassador Rats to events because they have a calmer and friendlier disposition, allowing them to better socialize with people in an overstimulating environment (like a fair) without over-stressing. The role of the Ambassador Rat is to show people what great pets rats can make, and give a better idea of how they would behave in a normal home environment.
Over the last four months my new boys Jack and Bean have proven themselves to be wonderful ambassadors, and have already made quite a few new friends, showing people that rats are not dirty or scary at all. Jack and Bean are slowly teaching people that they are more than a Halloween character, and that the best thing to do with your ratties during the Halloween season is to include them in the festivities by giving them a pumpkin of their own to play with!
Cooked pumpkin and pumpkin seeds are a great treat for your rats. Although rats can eat raw pumpkin, it’s very fibrous and difficult to digest, so I recommend baking or steaming the pumpkin first. While your rats may love the pumpkin seeds, they are high in fat, so you want to make sure these are only a treat. Pumpkin is high in vitamin A, is chock full of antioxidants, and is low in calories. Pumpkin is also known to be a mild diuretic, so if you find that your ratties are constipated, adding some pumpkin to their diet may help.
I love Halloween, but seeing rats misused and geared towards the masses as a scary, dirty or ugly animal can be disheartening. I can only hope that the teachings of Ambassador Rats like Jack and Bean will slowly dispel the myth behind the rat. There has been a slow shift in the popularity of rats as pets. Perhaps one day the “Black Rat” will be a less antagonized Halloween motif. Until then, ratties like Jack and Bean will be at the forefront, teaching people how sweet, smart and loving pet rats actually are.
If you would like to know more about Rattie Ratz Rescue you can visit their Facebook page. If you are interested in adoptable rats or volunteering for Rattie Ratz Rescue you can visit their website: www.rattieratz.com.
Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section & watch for more stories from Rattie Ratz every other month. You can also keep up with our pet articles by joining our KRL Facebook group. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to Rattie Ratz.