When my brother brought home his first pet rat, to shrieks of disgust from my mother and me, I would never have guessed that I was soon to fall in love.
But as my family’s rat collection has grown, I have also got sucked into the “rat race” at home.
Today is World Rat Day, a day aimed at promoting fancy rats as the wonderful pets they are.
I really think the poor little critters have had a bad “rep” for far too long. Sure, you are never going to catch me anywhere near a sewer rat, or those ones in Long Street that could give Splinter from the Ninja Turtles a run for his money, but fancy rats are a different story all together.
With so many different breeds, which distinguish rats in body type, coat type and colours, there really could be a rat out there for everyone.
But before I start sounding like a sales pitch, let me tell you how I fell in love with my little geniuses.
Like most pets, every rat has its own personality. I could watch our family of rats for hours, finding new quirks every time.
Luna, for instance, one of the girls, hates flies and will always cover her food with whatever she can find, when she isn’t busy eating.
The two youngest boys, Dexter and Jethro, are just like, well, boys really. They play-fight and love playing in cold water when it’s hot.
Oscar, one of the older boys, loves to swim. In fact, he loves water in general, while Blu, my brother’s first rat, goes crazy any time she gets wet.
The mighty Clarke, my rat, prefers the company of rats over humans and really just wants to love.
They each have foods they prefer and I have watched them sift through their food, looking for their favourites. I have even heard stories of rats that recognise theme tunes from TV programmes and then sit still to “watch” with their owners.
While rats make perfect pets, they need a lot of attention, which is why it is best to keep them in pairs, although it is strongly advised that females and males should not be kept together.
It is also important to find out as much as possible about caring for your rats before you go out and get your first critter.
The site www.ratanooga.co.za, is a South African Rat Club which aims at educating about the proper care for pet rats. Among other facets of rat care, they look at nutrition, bedding and cage specifications and exercise requirements.
And because a big portion of society thinks we are nuts, the site also offers a forum where we can gush about our new best friend, discuss rat related topics or look for advice.
Many people live in smaller homes, or are not allowed to keep dogs – rats make a perfect, lovable alternative.