I was second guessing myself as we drove the hour and a half home with two very large and rather intimidating rats in a cardboard box on the floor of my mini-van, yet my son seemed to summon a hitherto hidden Dr. Doolittle ability to befriend all members of the animal kingdom, naming them after his favorite television show heroes – Finn and Jake.
The rats themselves were cheap – no pure-bred pedigree papers to buy here – but buying the cage, food, bedding and a number of other ‘must have’ rat items made it clear we were really investing in this venture.
“I hope this isn’t a mistake,” said my husband after the fifth time he cut his hand putting together the $80 cage.
I hoped so too, especially several weeks later when the novelty of having new pets wore off. Insisting my son take out the rats every day to play with and handle them became a daily chore for me. When he complained, I had to remind him that they were HIS pets and HIS responsibility. Unfortunately, the responsibility of cleaning the cage (as well as any random droppings and urine) fell to my husband and me. I began to remember why I had avoided pets for so long. The musky smell of the cage hung heavily in the air of my sons’ room and there wasn’t too much we could do about it, but get used to it. I worried about the rats being bored in their cage, and worried about them not getting enough exercise and worried about them chewing through their cage bars and running amuck in the house. I realized that I was thinking of them as extensions of my own children – well except for the bar chewing bit.
Here’s the problem with letting people know you have rats – they never let you live it down. My family and friends were at best amused and at worst aghast at the notion that we had willingly brought vermin into our home as pets. If I had a dime for every snake food joke or grandmother that declared she would never visit my house again, I’d be a rich woman. My neighbor told me about one of the houses on her street becoming infested with rats while the owner was away. “Thought you’d like that story,” she smirked.
Despite the reputation we were developing as ‘that family with the rats’, I felt our pets were serving their purpose. My sons were becoming less afraid of animal encounters – even with dogs – and we got used to Finn and Jake crawling into the bookshelf or scurrying behind the toilet when we let them roam out of their cage. I am not too proud to admit that I began to adore them. They both had very distinct personalities and especially Jake was very fond of snuggling. Rats do this odd eye-ball popping thing when they are having a good time and it became a physical manifestation of their joy when they did it while nestled in your arms. Perhaps I was becoming a pet person after all.
And then, disaster.
To Be Concluded….