Cheap Friends in the Big City: The Pluses of Pet Rats

Ever walk around your city, looking up at apartment buildings with all those lives piled one on top of the other and wonder, “How the hell am I lonely?”  When I first moved to New York eight years ago, it was a pretty regular occurrence for me.    Since then, I’ve had to figure out ways to feel connected without getting completely burnt out.  Hey, I do have friends, but it can be damn difficult to align my life with theirs and find the time to meet up.  And what about when I just want to hang out at home and feel loved?  I’ve found that coming home to an uninhibited, joyous greeting by a living thing (other than my roommate) can bring some peace into my life and help me unwind from my frenetic day.

Now you’re thinking that I’m talking about a dog, but let’s face it, dogs are really expensive and require a time commitment that I’d be unable to make at this point in my life.  No, I’m talking about a being even smaller, the world’s greatest apartment pet: the fancy rat.

Most city-dwellers squirm and gag at the “r-word,” and if you landlord ever asked, I’d recommend you say it’s a hamster, but domestic or “fancy” rats have a lot more going for them than you’d initially think.  Intelligent, affectionate, clean, quiet, hypo-allergenic, and low-maintenance, rats are the pets that, despite all better judgment, you fall for hard, and you fall for fast.  Now these rats are not of the subway variety.  I’m talking about the healthy kind that you can buy for a fair $6 at PetCo.

I picked out Petunia from the PetCo on 2nd Avenue between e.32nd and e.31st St. when she was a couple months old, and I am completely mad about her!  She leaps to the top corner of the cage whenever I walk into the room, knows to come when I call her name, and never fails to make me laugh.  She’s a dear, quirky little soul who in her excitement to see me, occasionally misses a rung climbing and falls down the cage on her fat ass.

What solidified my relationship with Petunia, though, was a moment about a year and a half ago when I was going through a raucous breakup and crying on the phone with my soon-to-be ex.  She climbed up onto my shoulder and caught the tears that were streaming down my face with her tongue.  (It’s cool guys, I give her a bath once a week and make sure she eats a healthy vegetarian diet.)  Now maybe she just liked the salty taste, but I choose to believe it was love.

Because rats are very social animals, it is best to get your pets in single-sex pairs. When I’d had Petunia for 2 weeks, I found a breeder/rescuer on Long Island named Luna who had a litter of baby rats that she was giving for free to “loving homes.”  Luna met me at the train station with a free cage and a 4-week-old baby Marrakech.  When you become a new owner of a rat, you will learn that there are communities of “rat people,” like my breeder Luna, all over the world. They are fiercely loyal and passionate about rats as a breed, and many of them even belong to Rat Clubs that you can join, if you so desire.  Check out NYC’s Rat Meet-Up Group here.   (I haven’t been… yet.)

Most “rat people” will recommend getting your rats from breeders because it will save the rats from the trauma of being treated as snake-food or the opportunity to catch diseases in pet stores.  Personally, I think that either way, you can’t go wrong.  If you do decide to go the pet store route, call first and make sure that they have young rats for sale.  (Rats live on average about 2 years, so a month or two is a good age.)  If you want to be super-conscious, check out the NYC Rat Group Message Board or FancyRats.net for more information on adoption and care.

If you are the type of person who has dead plants all over your apartment because you cannot remember to water em every 3 days, maybe rats are not for you.  Like any living thing, they do need some attention and care.  But if you have found that the city takes from your spirit just a little bit more than it gives, a pet rat is a simple and cheap fix!  Trust.  Think of Ratatouille.  Be open to some love folks.

Image via FreeInfoSociety.com

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About the author

Danielle Levanas - Bargain Soul Huntress

Danielle was raised by a pack of coyotes in the Los Angeles hills. Since arriving in NY in 2001, she has had any number of strange jobs, including back-up singing for JELVIS (the Jewish Elvis), starting the non-profit LYDIA, and writing political cabarets. A huge advocate for travel as a way of life, you can find her at the Brooklyn Public Library when her bank account is empty, fantasizing about where to head off to next.
  • http://www.fuzzbutt.co.uk Rache

    Glad you have discovered the joys of pet ratties! They are indeed gorgeous pets and break my heart each time they leave, after their short little lives. I make very funky cage furniture for ratties, please browse my website and treat your Fuzzer! http://www.fuzzbutt.co.uk

  • http://www.battlehamster.co.uk Battle Hamster

    Cute hamsters. Really lovely. Wish to get one soon.