Not the easiest animal to convince people make good pets, but ones which I’ve found in the four or so years of owning them to be the cheekiest, most playful and surprisingly easiest small pet you could own.
A quick list of their benefits can include:
- Unlike Hamsters, Degus and Chinchillas, they’re not nocturnal and so will be awake when you are.
- Personality-wise they are a cross between a dog (playful, attentive, loyal) and a cat (wants cuddles/to be stroked, relaxed)
- Each rat has their own individual personality that can be developed depending on how you respond/act with them.
- Once you’ve gained their trust, they will consistently want your attention/to play/be stroked.
- They are very food-orientated as a species. No pet meets ‘the way to your heart is through your stomach’ mantra more than a rat.
- They are as clean as cats, especially if you litter-train them.
- They eat (or will at least try) pretty much anything (though high fat diet or citrus foods will have negative health effects).
- They grind their teeth together when happy (bruxing) and (when really happy/relaxed) they boggle their eyes.
- They’re both friendly and independent so bought in pairs or a trio, they will play with themselves when you’re doing other things.
- They are ridiculously intelligent. Check out the video below and see some of the many tricks you can teach them.
But, admitting to owning rats as pets does come with some interesting (and occasionally offensive) stereotypes – mainly born out of fear or even sheer ignorance.
- Assuming my home is filthy because of their presence?
- Assuming they carry diseases like rabies and the plague (yes, as in the bubonic plague…which was carried by fleas.. not rats..)
- I even had one classmate warn me that they could escape and attack me and my partner…
Don’t get me wrong, I can semi-understand why some people might find the tails off-putting, or why some may not like the threat of being bitten; but then saying that, you have a threat of being bitten by any pet if you hurt/upset it enough and the tails… well they’re easy to get used to after a while.
My original and aptly-named ‘Rat Pack’ consisted of five boys which I semi-rescued from a woman living in Sheffield (luckily for me she agreed to deliver them on the understanding that I’d pay petrol costs). Ranging in age and temperament from about 6 months and almost feral (never been handled) to approximately a year and a half year old love-bug, they quickly stole my heart, particularly after one of them suffered a stroke/severe fall shortly after arriving and so spent three days cuddled in my pocket so I could feed him medicine mixed in yoghurt every two hours.
The downside to caring for rats (or any rodent) however, is their short lifespan which averages at about 2-3 years, so my original rat pack are now all what is known as ‘over the rainbow bridge’ ie) rattie heaven.
I do however currently have a very licky, very attention-seeking, very food-orientated pair of boys whose faces I couldn’t resist when visiting Pets at Home last November.
*Saying that, I really do not recommend purchasing any small animal from a Pet store, particularly rats, due to the high risk of health or temperament issues that come from those environments – many pet store rats are bred and treated as snake food. Seriously, if you’re a novice or don’t want to risk having to trust train them, buy from trusted breeders; you’ll be saving yourself a lot of stress and hassle.
Very quickly, Houdini and Pebble came home to live – Pebble, named for the colour of his coat and the way he often sleeps (curled up in a ball as if about to do a forward roll), and Houdini who came by his name for the ridiculous speed in which he managed to escape not one but three of the cases I was expected to carry him home in.
Winning over the hearts of those who are afraid or flat-out dislike rats however, is not an easy task. Historically they’ve been a species cursed with a bad reputation, and counteracting the ‘plague-ridden, aggressive, you-will-die’ stereotype is often a task that meets a lot of resistance. People are comfortable in their own world view and questioning that/showing them that a belief/fear that many have held since childhood is false, isn’t always appreciated unless approached with care.
There are five key strategies that I have tried to take in building and defending ratty reputations. These are:
1. Be authoritative
Communicating strongly and knowledgeably goes a long way to making everyone else believe you understand what you’re talking about and that you’re the leader and authority in your area. Conveying your message with powerful, emotive words as well as with conviction will make you more believable and will make your audience more receptive to your message.
2. Be specific
Your message needs to be clear and easily conveyed. In this case, that’s pretty easy given the simplicity of both the subject and the stance ie) ‘Rat’s are awesome and everyone should love them!’, but in most cases, issues and brands can have more complex, more multi-layered connotations and thus need focused and specific communications to be believed by the recipient audience. It’s no good telling someone how great rats are if you can’t explain to the person why you like them and what makes them a good pet.
3. Be consistent
Being consistent when showing pictures and videos that contest the ‘ewwww gross’ mentality reinforces the message and shows people how loving and playful rats truly are without overcomplicating or confusing the issue.
4. Be honest
Every pet (and brand for that matter) has annoying quirks and habits. Being honest about them (they chew anything rubbery or wooden, and will use your clothes to make nests given half the chance) and admitting the downsides (they can smell if not cleaned regularly) increases your credibility and means that when you talk about the good things, you’re more likely to be believed. Integrity goes a long way after all.
5. Be relentless
Commit yourself to getting the positive message out there. People are inundated with a myriad of messages each day and when it comes to rats – lets be honest – the vast majority are not going to be positive ones. It’s not only critical therefore that you try to stand out amongst the static but equally that you are not forgotten. Follow up with people you’ve had past discussions with to reinforce not only your message but also the relationships you are building.
Overall, I’ve had a lot of success.
I mean it’s hard for people to retain the belief in the evil/disgusting/diseased stereotype when they are faced with the grabby-handed puppy eyes of two very adorable fluffballs.
There are of course going to be a small percentage of people whose opinions will be immovably negative. The RepTrak Alignment Monitor, developed by Cees van Riel for The Reputation Institute, measure employee alignment and contribution to the objectives and performance of an organisation. It suggests that although 10% of employees will automatically respond positively to change and 70% respond given adequate persuasion, 20% will remain consistently negative in their response.
The key I think is making sure to reinforce the positive messages I’m promoting to the 80% majority whilst never giving up on winning over that remaining stubborn 20% to my way of thinking – after all, their stubbornness gives me plenty of opportunities for rodent evangelism on a personal one-on-one basis.