Susan Luzzaro 9:45 p.m., June 18
When you think of a pet, what comes to mind? A dog? A cat? A white tiger? These do make great pets (in the case of the last one, however, keep at your own risk), but I have a little friend that most folks won't think of as a pet...yet he livens up my life quite a bit.
My pet's name is Mosher, and he's a piebald rat. No, really, he's a four-legged rodent that is bigger-and-nicer than a hamster or mouse. He's been with me since March of this year, and lives in my apartment with me.
Now, before you wonder if I have gone off the deep end, hear me out. The main reason that folks give rats a 9.0 on the YUCKK! meter is that when they think of rats, they think of Willard, Ben, and the brown wild beasties that bring ruination to crops worldwide. Not to mention bubonic plauge.
Well, kiddos, let me set you straight on a few items here. First, it wasn't the rats that started the Black Death via bubonic plauge, but the fleas on them that bit the humans and infected them. And if you try to remember that Willard and Ben were only movies (in fact, the "rat attack" sequences involved a lot of peanut butter being smeared on the actors before the scenes), then you might have a more open mind about these critters.
Your typical pet rat is a member of the rattus norwegicus (Norway Rat) species. They often come in white (albino), hooded (Dark on top, white on bottom), piebald (white on top, brown on bottom), and pure grey or brown. Often times, they are bred either as pets, or for lab experiments.
I got Mosher (named for Rock 105.3FM's mascot back in their early days) at the Vista Petco, along with a 10-gallon aquarium (better than a steel cage, since the cage will induce foot sores), pine beddding, a supply of food, a water dispenser, and a stack of chew sticks. All for about $50.00 total.
When you own a rat, the fiorst step is to get it used to you. This means socialization, as in playing with it and stroking it's fur. At first, you best have a supply of clean shirts, since your new buddy is going to poop and piddle on you (a natural defense mechanism). As the little one gets used to you, it will soon know that it has nothing to fear from you.
Like I said, tame rats are very gentle. Unlike hamsters, they will not bite (unless really provoked), nor run away. They will try to find a place to hide (which is why a fresh shirt is useful after socializing), but often will lick your hands (or other body parts) to let you know that it loves you.
The only bad things are that folks will sometimes want to introduce them to their pet snake or cat. If somebody says that to me, I will get in their faces really fast. Any pet is like a child, and to insinuate that Mosher is only good for snake food is a reason to flatten the transgressor post-bleedin-haste!
Also, I do not allow small kids to handle him. Small kids and small animals are not a good mix, since the former have a tendency to treat the latter roughly. Older kids and adults tend not to be like that (unless they are truly sociopathic), so I let them touch-and-hold Mosher...after asking me first.
But the worst of it all is that rats onlt have a 3-5year lifespan. Having a pet give up the ghost, be it a hooded rat or a Golden Retriever, can scar your soul up rather badly. My last three companions were buried at sea, in that I took the corpse to the Oceanside Pier, walked to the end, said some prayers...then put him over the rail and into the sea. Sounds cruel, but it's a clean burial, plus the crabs and fish recycle the carcass for their meals.
However, while he lives, Mosher Rat stays with me. When he plays "peek-a-boo" with me (slipping under my shirt, then poking his head out from my collar), well, I just cannot help but to love him. After all, the love he gives in return helps brighten up my life, plus helps with my blood pressure.
And such love is very hard to find...especially from my fellow humans.