SCORES & OUTDOORS: An uninvited and unwelcomed guest crashes party
by Roland D. Hallee
Last Saturday night, my wife and I hosted our annual after holiday party with our camping friends. Everyone invited attended, however, unfortunately one couple had to bow out due to illness.
During the evening, we had a party crasher in the form of an uninvited, unwelcomed guest. One of our guests calmly informed us that she had seen a “mouse” run across the kitchen floor. My wife and I have been living in this house for 46 years, and over that time, have encountered one mouse, which I inadvertently brought home from camp in some laundry.
My sighting revealed something different. This time, however, unbeknown to my wife and I, we seem to have an unwanted rat living in our basement, that decided to make an appearance at the height of festivities.
RATS! No, it’s not something you say when things don’t go your way. Instead, it describes, profoundly, what people think of this rodent that is perceived as a member of the underworld of the animal kingdom. They are scorned, feared and totally misunderstood. They are portrayed as evil and filthy little creatures that spread disease as they scamper through the sewers of major cities. Among unions, “rat” is a term for nonunion employers or breakers of union contracts.
Few animals elicit such strong and contradictory reactions as rats.
The Black Death is traditionally believed to have been caused by the micro-organism Yersinia pestis, carried by the tropical rat flea which preyed on black rats living in European cities during the epidemic outbreaks of the Middle Ages. These rats were used as transport hosts. Another disease linked to rats is the foot-and-mouth disease.
The reason I bring this up is because of something I saw recently. My wife showed a video to me on Facebook – I don’t do Facebook – showing this woman who had two pet rats she had trained to do some amazing things. That piqued my curiosity because I had heard rats are fairly intelligent.
The best known rat species are the black rat, which is considered to be one of the world’s worst invasive species, and the brown rat, which is what I saw that night. Male rats are known as bucks, females are does, and infant rats are called kittens or pups. A group of rats is referred to as a “mischief.”
The woman on the video had her rats trained to bring her a tissue when she sneezed, respond to flashcard commands, and even come when called, just to name a few that I remember.
Those who keep rats as pets know them as highly intelligent and social animals who clean themselves regularly and thrive on regular interaction.
Specifically-bred rats have been kept as pets at least since the late 19th century. Pet rats are typically variants of the species brown rat, but black rats and giant pouched rats are also known to be kept. Pet rats behave differently from their wild counterparts depending on how many generations they have been kept as pets. The more generations, the more domesticated it will be. Pet rats do not pose any more of a health risk than pets such as dogs and cats. Tamed rats are generally friendly and can be taught to perform selected behaviors.
Because of evident displays of their ability to learn, rats were investigated early to see whether they exhibit general intelligence, as expressed by the definition of a g factor as observed in larger, more complex animals. Early studies around 1930 found evidence both for and against such a g factor in rats.
A 2011 controlled study found that rats are actively prosocial. They demonstrate apparent behavior to other rats in experiments, including freeing them from cages. When presented with readily available chocolate chips, test rats would first free the caged rat, and then share the food. All female rats displayed this behavior, while only 30 percent of males did not.
Rat meat has become a dietary staple in some cultures. Among others, I personally observed rats being consumed in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.
Back to the pet rat. While most people cringe at the thought of having a rat for a pet, believe it or not, domestic rats make great pets. They are not aggressive, diseased and dirty animals, but in fact are very clean, fun-loving, sensitive, very social and affectionate. They genuinely enjoy interacting with people and should be handled daily. Rats are very intelligent and can be taught simple tricks, and will often learn their names. They can be litter box trained.
Whatever you do, don’t go down to the river to select a pet rat, but rather visit your local pet shop. When choosing your rat, choose one that does not appear skittish or does not squeal when picked up. Males tend to be calmer than females. Males usually enjoy being held for longer periods of time, especially when they get older.
If you get a pet rat, it is best if they are kept indoors rather than in a shed or garage, where they would get less attention. As mentioned before, rats are extremely clean animals and will constantly groom themselves – similar to cats. If you have more than one rat, they will groom each other.
The rat we saw that night was brown, and looked fairly well groomed. I’m wondering if it was a neighbor’s pet that got away?
So, now that we have seen a lighter side of rats, doesn’t it make you want to run right out to get one? Not me. This guy, or gal, decided to show itself on a night when there were over a dozen adults around. But it had better not get too comfortable. Its lease has an expiration date.
Now, as one of the guests noted, what will my wife and I do to top this year’s entertainment at next year’s party?
Roland’s trivia question of the week:
Of the four teams left in the NFL playoffs, which is the only one to never win a Super Bowl?
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