I smell a rat


For an eternity now my children have been asking for a pet.

Originally, I tried fobbing them off with the powder puff cloud of fruit flies that systematically appear all through summer, each time I open the bin.

Then I pointed out the creepy useful spiders in the cellar (they’re the only weapon that we have against those rejected fruit flies).

But heads shook. Tuts were tutted. And the words, “Mum, you’re so funny!” incredibly failed to arrive.

I took a deep breath and put my thinking cap on.

What type of pet would I most like to take care of? After all, despite there being six of us (not including the flies and the spiders, with them there are way more than six) in this house. I would end up being the predominant carer.

I sighed. And thought, I’ve got enough on my plate with those four monkeys…

… On telling this to the children though, they just tutted some more.

I’ll be honest. I do think pets are good for children. They teach them about life and death. Letting go. About taking care of another who doesn’t necessarily behave in just the way you expected them to. About being responsible.

And that being my belief, we have, of course, had pets in the past. A rescued cat, who sadly only survived a couple of years. A hamster, some fish and an amazingly, talented-at-escaping rabbit, when I lived with my first husband.

Since my second marriage, we’ve also had a hamster and some small fish. But all the fish have since died. And the hamster had his funeral, with guests.

Unfortunately for them, some good friends arrived from Scotland on the very afternoon the hamster ‘passed’. Meaning none of the gifts they brought with them, could weaken the wailing and weeping. Only a full on hamster funeral could do that. Which involved the precious pet being laid to rest on a bed of hand-drawn artwork, in a small box, with a specially knitted scarf to keep it warm. A procession to a far-enough away tree. And a little blessing included: tears, song, hugs and declarations of love.

I would have been somewhat more touched if they’d not been avoiding the hamster for some months beforehand. Because one of the children had been so badly bitten, she had come down with a terrible infection and been backwards and forwards to various emergency doctors, requiring urgent treatment.

To be honest, I think we’ve worn the hamster t-shirt.

So hamster out, let’s look again at fish.

The problem with fish is they eat each other. Fact.

This is even more disturbing to a sensitive ADHD possibly autistic child.

Fish also don’t cope well with generous mummies who think they look hungry again (it’s that unblinking, staring eye/opening shutting mouth thing, that does it).

If you feed them again – they die.

And if they’re small enough, they have a tendency to hover around the filter in their dead state, unnoticed, then get stuck behind the said filter. They’re only seen by small people when they start to look like a squashed grey slug and that bothers the small people, somewhat.

So fish out – what about another cat?

My second husband is allergic to cats. Really allergic. Coming into contact with a solitary hair is enough to have me running for anti-histamine. He can’t run himself anymore as he can barely breathe.

So the furball is out.

Next comes my probable favourite. The dog. I’ve never had a dog but I’ve always been drawn to them and I think if I made the connection with a particular one, I am the type that would fall head-over-heels in love.

As we’ve never had a dog before, we had to do our research and we learned that so as to be a responsible dog owner, we’d have to sell a body part to medical science in order to pay for it. Now if that body part were say, an arm, I suspect we would have difficulty keeping control of the dog on the compulsory dog training course we’d have to take. I think the course is a good idea, but the cost?

If I instead sold my leg, I would not be able to walk the dog twice a day in all weathers and if my husband sold his head, he would no longer earn enough to pay the required yearly taxes for dog ownership.

And the money we’d have left in the bank after purchasing the desired animal, would no longer cover the costs of erecting a fence around our garden, to protect our new family member from the speeding cars racing down our street.

On the bright side, I didn’t really fancy the ‘scooping of poop’ part and my husband and four-year-old are slightly afraid of dogs.

So dog out – what’s next?

A tortoise. They are kind of cool. But do you know that they live for, like, a zillion years? And they do not like to be cuddled? I think what we really need here is a cuddly pet. Something to stroke, that will de-stress a hormonal teenager and calm a young man who finds life challenging.

So tortoise out – what about a guinea pig?

Research started. I sought advice from pet shop workers, the Internet and books. I approached the children and saw delighted, convinced faces and they informed their friends, neighbours and relations and a man with a dog, as he crossed the road.

A guinea pig. Affordable. Cute. Stroke-able. Friendly. Can’t get stuck behind a filter. Rarely bites. Sorted…

… Or not. It turns out that I’m rather allergic to hay and hay is absolutely necessary for a guinea pig’s nutrition.

Sorrowful, I talked to a friendly pet shop worker/pet lover and she told me the ideal pet for us is a rat. She assured me another escape artist rabbit, is not really the best pet for us as it’s very likely that my husband, being so highly allergic to cats, will also be allergic to bunnies.

I have two problems with rats. One is I’m more than slightly spooked by their tails. And the second is living at the river, I spend half of my time shutting doors in an effort to keep rats (and flies – but I’ve obviously failed there) out.

Purchasing one would be something of a turnaround!

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32 thoughts on “I smell a rat”

  1. A horse would probably be out of the question too? 😉 I have always wanted a horse, or a dog. But I ended up with cats for 30 years already hehehe. Lovely creatures.

    Tough decision you will have to make Sarah! A rat? My brother had a tame rat and its tiny head really looked cute. It would crawl into the sweater sleeves of their children, tickle along the way and appear again at the top near the neck. The kids loved the little ratty one.

    The tail indeed is a bit spooky but you will get used to it. Too bad cutting it is not an option eh 😉 Hmmm how about a ferret? They can be tamed too I think.

    Good luck with making the right choice!

    ~Marion

    1. Your ‘cutting’ comment made me laugh so loud I suspect the neighbours heard me!! 😉

      The pet shop woman was a real rat lover and had lots of stories like your brothers!!

  2. Since I enjoy traveling, I have decided that the coyotes that wander my property are the perfect pet…no fuss and they keept the varmint population down….good luck on selecting a pet…enjoyed the post …very witty.

  3. Kiwi Daughter and I are both allergic to pet hair… mild at the moment but allergy specialists assure us of the high chances of it worsening considerably if we had cats or dogs at home.

    Plus: no garden, so what’s good for apartment living? and if we want to travel semi frequently to New Zealand? it’s a big ask to get someone to look after your pets for five or six weeks.

    Ferrets? I have to warn you… they need space, they shred everything in sight, they “mark” territory 20 times a day and they have a decidedly strong “aroma”..

    Friends of ours LOVE pets but travel a lot, so took the option of pet-sitting those of friends… they had a ferret at their place just once and have sworn never again, it pee peed all over the place and they thanked heaven for wooden floors because it was rank!

    She commutes and He works from home and he said he had to get up and mop up odorous messes more times a day than was funny… they have seriously lost their sense of humour when it comes to ferrets and were delighted when the owner came to collect it.. Maybe someone else has managed to house train theirs, but just warning you that you might be in for a shock!

    1. OMG I’m not getting a ferret!!!

      No garden makes it difficult. We have a garden, but live right on the edge of a nature reserve which brings with it a fair share of wild animals including weasels. They often attack pets kept outside such as rabbits and guinea pigs…

      Thanks so much for the ferret warning. I read it out loud to all the children, but they were more interested in how cute ferrets look in the picture I showed them. I took heed though, of that you can be sure!!

  4. I say get cats. My lovely bf is allergic to cats, but he kinda ‘got past’ the allergy once the kittens had been in the house. I suppose your body can adjust… To a limit of course.
    Cats are sooooo sweet!

    1. I hear more and more that rats are the new dogs. Perhaps you should give it a try…
      … I could take your dog, and you could test the rat idea for me.

      Just pop her on one of those cheap Ryan Air flights – you’re so kind!

  5. Oh, man! This is such an excellent reminder how much more complicated things are after kids enter the picture! I’ve still got my adopted dog from pre-baby, so I haven’t gone through bringing a pet into the family post baby . . . which is why it’s so exhausting reading this entry and comparing it with my own experience with my dog! Here’s the process I went through when deciding to adopt:

    (1) Though it would be nifty to have a dog
    (2) Asked boyfriend how much he was spending on dog. Updated budget spreadsheet
    (3) Drove to dog shelter
    (4) Adopted

    Fairly straightforward compared to what I now sense will be the adoption process for pet #2, some ways down the road!

    1. I love your ‘adopt a dog process’.

      Do you have to take a training course too?

      EVERYTHING becomes more complicated with kids. But I wouldn’t have a stone with ‘mum’ and a heart carved on it without them. That’s some consolation. -ISH.

  6. I can so identify with this post! My kids ended up with no pet for most of the reasons you cite above and don’t seem to have suffered unduly…

    Tilly had gerbils if I remember rightly… why don’t you ask her. She seemed very fond of them. A rat but not quite a rat? 🙂

  7. Rats make excellent pets: they are sociable (with 30,000 brothers and sisters, I guess you have to be), intelligent and you can cuddle them.

    I haven’t had rats but we have had gerbils. Seven, in total. The kids cried at the first couple of deaths but they got used to it, as gerbils live an average three years. If you get them young and handle them every day, they are friendly and interact with you quite happily. They also have tails but they don’t smell like rats.

    1. Do gerbils need hay?

      We definitely need something sociable. So many handlers here!!

      My husband is flipping out ever so slightly…

  8. Oh my gosh, don’t get rats!!! And if you do, stay away from males. Their pee stinks, they’re so aggressive (especially together) and need to get neutered. They bite, bite, bite. They’re ugly and do nothing interesting. And of course they pee and poop on you. And they die within 2 to 3 years (which is a relief). My ex had the great idea for us to have rats and I’d never, ever let my kids con me into it today.

    Cats are the best pets ever (I’ve had cats my whole life). They’re clean, low maintenance. As long as they stay inside, they don’t need shots every year and they know when to be close to you and when to stay away (except my cat who’s a stick of glu). I know plenty of people who are allergic to cats who have cats, so maybe you can get your husband to agree. 😉

    Fish are messy (keeping the tank clean is a pain), tortoises are low maintenance but not very social. I hear you about hamsters. You don’t seem to have a lot of options. If you go for rats, don’t say I didn’t tell you so!

    1. So many differing opinions on rats…!

      It seems to me you either love them or you hate them.

      Hubby gets so sick around cats – I just wouldn’t ask him to. He’s better with bigger cats than kittens but even so. But I’ve loved my cats too. Had several of them since I was a little girl.

      You are right about fish. We also ended up spending a small fortune on them. Water testing kits and various chemicals that I just hadn’t expected. For a while we kept replacing the half eaten ones but I started to be viewed with suspicion at the local pet shop.

  9. Hello there – I came via @makesmilk on Twitter. 🙂

    I am something of a rat expert – I’ve had twenty-four of them over the past seven years. They are truly wonderful pets, especially for small children – I have a nearly six-year-old and all of them have been great with him.

    I have five in a huge cage right next to me as I type, and he can jam his fingers through the cage bars and get nothing but a good licking. They’re also incredibly clean animals and can easily be litter trained which makes cage cleaning much easier.

    The above poster talking about rats being aggressive/vicious obviously hasn’t met many rats! I’ve been bitten a handful of times in all the time I’ve owned rats, and every single one of those times has been a) my own fault (annoying a sleeping rat, for example) and b) by a rescue who I’ve been in the process of socialising. My son has never been bitten. Well-bred rats are the most gentle, friendly creatures.

    A few pointers:

    Get more than one rat. It’s considered cruel within the rat fancy to keep a rat by him or herself. Rats are extremely sociable creatures, and need company.

    Don’t buy rats from a pet shop. I’ve had mostly rescues but you need to be able to put a lot of work in, so I’d recommend finding a reputable breeder. Pet shop rats are mill bred, undersocialised and have all manner of health problems. Their life spans are also much shorter. Rats from a good breeder will be bred for health first and foremost, and they will have been handled from birth so they will already be hand tame and socialised by the time they come to you. The other bonus of getting breeder rats is that they’ll be cheaper to keep as their health will be a lot better so you save on vet bills.

    You need to have a lot of time to spend with them. As I’ve already said, rats are extremely sociable animals and only thrive if they are adequately entertained/stimulated. Make sure there are toys and things to do in the cage. Also make time to spend with them – ideally about an hour a day.

    Decide what you want out of your rats before choosing their sex. Bucks tend to be a little smellier, but they’re also a lot more cuddly and will happily sit in your lap for hours and watch telly with you. Does are a lot more playful and like to run around and chase those feather-on-a-stick toys and need a lot more exercise.

    Overall rats are really rewarding creatures to keep as pets. They genuinely enjoy the company of humans – I have one staring at me right now, my cuddle-bum Lyta, who is desperate for me to get her out for snuggles and a run around my computer desk. 😉

    If you want any more information I’m happy to give it, and I can point you in the direction of some great rat fancy websites and forums which I found really useful when I started on my rattie journey! I hope you do get a couple, because they’re just so fabulous I think everyone should have rats to share their lives with. 😀

    1. Hello Anji!

      Thank you so much for giving me so much information about rats!!

      This perhaps sounds like I stupid question but how would I find out about breeders? (I live in Germany – so maybe you can’t even answer that).

      I would definitely be interested in the forums/websites.

      Do the does run so fast that they could be easily dropped? As the kids aren’t used to handling them. Should they be neutered as the previous commenter said?

      1. I’d find out if there’s something like the National Fancy Rat Society in Germany, and failing that find a German rat fancy forum, and ask around there for information on reputable breeders. I can ask on the communities I’m part of if there’s anything in Germany if you like.

        The place I find most useful is Fancy Rats which is a UK site/forum but has a wealth of information on rat care.

        The does do run fast, though to be honest if you get kittens (the actual name for baby rats!) from a breeder they’re going to be pretty swift regardless of whether they’re male or female as they are very bouncy and playful as babies. The forum I mentioned just now can give you tips on teaching your kids to handle them properly, though to be honest they can take most things. As long as they’re taught to never, ever pick them up by the tail or pull on their tails, and that two hands are better than one, they should be all right.

        I’ve never neutered a rat, male or female. It’s generally not done except in rare cases of extreme aggression or sometimes if they get tumours in their reproductive organs. Both of these scenarios are very rare if you get well-bred kittens from a breeder who is breeding first and foremost for health and temperament. 🙂

      2. Firstly, thanks again!!

        (And have you noticed your comments are convincing other people to get rats? 🙂

        I would really appreciate you asking for me. Then I’ll know for sure that it’s a good source and not some random ‘pot luck’ entry that popped up in my search. I’ll definitely look at the forum above. I must admit you are convincing me, I had already started to forget about the tails ;-).

        OK no neutering, unless absolutely required – that’s good to know. The key I’m noticing here is well-bred kittens!! Thank you so much!!

  10. We’ve done birds, fish, a cat, and dogs (we currently have two) and recently got into mice. They don’t mind being handled, can be hand fed, I’ve yet to notice a smell (males are supposed to be stinkier; my girls think this is quite funny), not expensive to purchase or maintain. They’re active both day & night and can be quite entertaining to watch. Good luck with your quest!

  11. Hey
    I loved reading your most recent posts, I laughed out loud at the idea of offering your children spiders and flies for pets. What about a spider I mean a big one in a tank? No I’m kidding, just though it was the only thing not suggested. How about a gecko? but you have to feed them grasshoppers and they chirp all night!

    It’s true that your old-man might exhibit less symptoms as he gets used to a cat, but really his health will remain slightly worse than is normal for him. I have cat allerigies and grew up with cats, and only realised how bad my health was when I moved out. As for the gerbil-hay question you can get loads of synthetic stuff for gerbils and hamsters and I think rats and mice, they still get a bit dusty though. It sounds like rats are the winner…After reading all these comments I’m considering it myself. But if you don’t get them spayed won’t they have little rats?

    1. Hello and welcome.

      My son is REALLY afraid of spiders. Recently we went to a reptile zoo and he had an opportunity to hold one, he almost shot through the roof.

      We did think about lizard type things, but didn’t really warm to the idea.

      He grew up with cats too – and was always ill. His doctor even sent him to the seaside to re-cooperate for a month. Funnily I normally know before him when there’s a cat around – his face starts to look grey and his eyes start to swell. Only after that he starts to wheeze. It’s a shame because we all love cats.

      The rats sound enticing don’t they? No, they won’t produce lots of babies (I’m excited I can answer a rattie question) you keep same sex together. Let me know if you decide to get them!!

  12. Have you considered chickens? In England we can adopt ex-battery hens from here: http://www.bhwt.org.uk/ They probably have something similar near you. They live a horrible life until they’re retired and rescued so they often come to you virtually featherless. Their feathers grow back after a week or two though, plus you get free eggs!

    Or how about Degus? They’re similar to rats but I think they’re cuter.

    1. I guess you don’t know, in Germany having battery hens is illegal. A very good thing, I think.

      I quite like the idea of free eggs, but as we live on the edge of a green belt there are a lot of wild animals around here, we have to be really careful what animals we have in the garden.

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