One Rat for Each Boy


Right now, as of the last few months, there are more animals than humans in our household.

Two adults plus three children equals five humans. A cat, a dog, a snake, and three rats equals six animals.

That’s right. We have voluntarily brought rats into our household.

It happened one weekend when my wife Pam was away seeing her actress aunt Dixie in a play. Nick, my oldest, 11, had been agitating for a gecko for some time. So I brought all three kids (Nick plus JJ, 8, and Adam, 5) to the pet store to look into it (mistake #1).

Nick was going to use his own money, of which he had a grand total of about $120, to buy the gecko. But His Royal Highness the Gecko had to have a sun lamp, a UV lamp, all kinds of highly specialized equipment to recreate “desert conditions” in his cage. All in, including the price of HRH The Gecko himself, the tally was somewhere north of $400. So the whole thing was looking to cost me more than $300…

Plus, the pet-store sales guy informed me, geckos aren’t really that friendly, “they don’t exactly cuddle you,” they were mostly for display. “But really, they don’t do anything.” They eat live crickets, he explained, which you in turn have to keep alive with little blue pellets, or something, which meant frequent trips back and forth to the pet store, which is all the way across town from us (and I knew who would be the one making those long, lonely, boring trips, every freaking weekend, all alone, flipping disconsolately through a free paper on the streetcar: me).

The whole thing seemed like an unholy pain, so after scratching my noodle for a while, I ixnayed the eckogay. “Sorry, Nick. What about something else?”

“We want something too!” clamoured his brothers. We looked at hamsters, we looked at gerbils, and yawned.

“Have you ever considered rats?” the sales guy asked. “They make great pets.”

A female sales guy came over. She had rats, she loved them, they made great pets, she said: cuddly, and smart. Almost as smart as dogs. She had taught hers to come when she blew a little whistle.

“Hmmm,” I said. “Well, how much are the rats?”

“Well, we use them for snake food. They’re five bucks each.”

Sold! I’m a little rat-o-phobic, but I’d get over it. We scored three rats, all male, specifying non-pink-eyed ones (they’re freaky), grabbed a cage, rat chow, etc. (“Can they eat anything else?” I asked, dumbly. “Dude, they’re rats,” the sales guy said. “They’re scavengers. They’ll eat anything.”) Total cost: under a hundred.

Booyakasha! Pam phoned later that afternoon.

“I’ve got good news and bad news,” I told her.

“Oh, no,” she said (she’s not nearly as amused by my antics as I am). “What?”

“Which do you want first?”

“The good news.”

“They’re in a cage!”

“What’s the bad news?”

“We’ve got rats.”

“Oh, Dave…”

But I must say, they have made great pets. They are smart, they do love to cuddle, they run in and out of the boys’ hoodies, etc. The boys love them, and they love that they saved their lives. (I feed our snake thawed frozen rats, after the boys have gone to bed, so they never think about it or make any connections.) I’ve got a good picture of them all watching the animated movie “Ratatouille” and holding their rats. And Pam’s been a real sport about it. They’re in our basement. As long as the boys clean their cage, which frequently reeks, on the regular, you hardly know they’re there.