Despite all my rage, I am still in the rat cage

A brief chronicle of my time as a rat owner

I have two emotional support animals. They are wonderful, and I love them very much. However, they tend to get me a lot of looks and not-so-nice comments when I bring them up. This is because they are rats. I don’t have the time and space to care for a dog, and I’m severely allergic to cats, so my animal companions are two fancy rats named Clementine and Ermengarde. This week, I’d like to give you all a look inside life as a rat parent, and maybe remove some of the stigma around it.

People see rats as dirty, creepy, sneaky sort of animals, which is why I get a lot of double-takes when I say that I keep them as pets. But in reality, rats are actually excellent companions and are the perfect little friends for me and my lifestyle.

My rats are fancy rats, which is a type of domesticated rat specifically bred to be kept as a pet. I do not recommend bringing wild rats into your home or trying to interact with them unless you are immune to every disease ever. My lovely ladies, though, are not wild rats. I purchased them from a breeder in Minneapolis last fall, and the anniversary of their “gotcha day” is coming up on November 11.

Fancy rats are a pretty remarkable little set of mammals. They’re fastidiously clean–I have never had to bathe my rats, they take care of grooming themselves–incredibly smart, and are just so much fun to have around. Rats are really intelligent, which is one of the reasons they’re used as lab animals so often. I make use of this by teaching my ladies little tricks, like riding around on my shoulders when I do chores, but I’ve also seen people train their rats to do really complicated tasks like obstacle courses and puzzles. 

They also have very distinct personalities. My rats are sisters, and Ermengarde is definitely in charge. Clementine has been getting more assertive lately, though, and she likes being around people way more. Ermengarde might be the leader, but she’s way less adventurous than her sister. Clementine loves meeting new people and sniffing out new things, and if you stick your finger between the bars of their manor, it’s going to go in her mouth. Not to bite, just to check what it is. I’ve never been bitten or purposefully scratched by my rats, which I’ve decided to believe is because of the great example I set as a parent.

They do refuse to exercise in their exercise wheel and only nap in it, which I think they might have also picked up from me given how much time I spend just sort of languishing on the couch, but that’s neither here nor there.

Much like me, my rats love music, and they have very strong opinions about it. I like to set them free in my bathroom where they can’t really get into any trouble and just play them different songs and see which ones they like. They’ll make their feelings about the music clear through their behavior, with the highest honor being when they come right up to the speaker to listen.

Last year I did a radio show on KNDS called “Tunes from the Rat Lord” where I played songs the ladies had selected. Rats have super sensitive hearing, so I keep the volume low, but they’re really into death metal and screamo. I kid you not. These guys love Slipknot. They’re also fans of classical (Vivaldi, specifically) and some lo-fi, but much to my chagrin they aren’t Fall Out Boy fans. This was a hard one for me to swallow, I’ll be honest, but they do love My Chemical Romance so I’m not totally heartbroken.

Fancy rats are pretty high-maintenance, so please do your research first if you’d like to get some, but the time commitment with them is way less than, say, a dog, which fits my schedule perfectly. Unfortunately, they only tend to live around two years, so my time with these wonderful ladies might already be halfway over, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I love having my curious little companions in the apartment, and they’re always down to watch Lord of the Rings with me. They genuinely do provide real emotional support to me, and I’m very grateful to have them in my life.

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