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					Animal Health & Safety

       Someone                                                                the Pied Piper
                                                                                                                        By Tiffany Maxwell
                                                                                                            I read kept leading me back to one inescap
                                                                                                            able conclusion: rats rule.

                                                                                                                 This an exotic animal vet in Toronto,
                                                                                                            Axelson, belief was confirmed by Dr. Rick
                                                                                                            who was kind enough to illustrate for me
                                                                                                            the differences between rats and a few other
                                                                                                            types of pet rodents.
                                                                                                                 Hamsters, he tells me, with very few
                                                                                                            exceptions, are not interested in human con
                                                                                                            tact. They sleep during the day and object
                                                                                                            to being woken, mainly with their teeth. A
                                                                                                            few hundred years of human contact has not
                                                                                                            made much difference in their living habits,
                                                                                                            and to keep a hamster happy, your best bet
                                                                                                            is to recreate the environment of the Asian
                                                                                                            Steppes to which, psychologically, they are
                                                                                                            still accustomed. Namely, they need an en
                                                                                                            vironment with lots of places to burrow,
                                                                                                            somewhere to hoard their food, and for you
                                                                                                            to leave them alone. For someone who works
                                                                                                            full time and doesn’t own a TV, a hamster is
                                                                                       Astaroth             a cute bit of slapstick to zone out to before
   I SUPPOSE I WAS ASKING FOR IT the                     began to breed the most docile and attractive
   first time.                                           ones, and ten minutes later, the world had a            Gerbils and mice fall across the spec
       I was chatting with a British co-worker           breed of rat suitably gentle and refined for       trum between hamsters and rats. Both are a
   one day when I mentioned I was thinking               Victoria herself to keep as a royal pet.           bit more personable, although still more like
   about getting a pet again, having said good               Also, my co-worker never actually              lyto nip than a rat. Gerbils, Axelson says, are
   bye to my beloved dog some six months ear-            said, “Won’t someone think of the bubonic          best left to more experienced owners. They
   her.                                                  plague?”or anything else in that sentence, but     can be impatient and jumpy and difficult to
       “That’s lovely! What will you get? Anoth          I do enjoy a nice bit of hyperbole to make my      keep hold of. Mice are the nicer of the two,
                                                         point. Really, she was a lovely woman and her      but still not as affectionate as rats, having
   er dog?”
       No, not another dog. I was a single lady          disgust tastefully understated.                    more problems with odours and provoking
   working full time with a small apartment and              Her reaction, in spirit, was not unique.       allergies. Out of all four, mice also have the
                                                         Other co-workers, friends and family mem           shortest life spans, living only a year or two.
   a busy life outside of work a lifestyle I felt
                                                         bers from all walks of life balked at the no            In my research on guinea pigs, I’ll con
   was incompatible with the needs of a dog. No,
   I told my colleague, I had narrowed down my           tion of pet rats. As my aunt pointed out, I’ve     cede (even with my rampant prejudice) that
   options to either a cat or a pair of rats.            never lived anywhere where rats have been          they sound lovely. Sweet and affectionate,
                                                         a problem, and conversely, I don’t think I’d       they are suitable pets for children over the
       “Rats?! But theybite! Theyspread disease!
   Their tails are gross! Bubonic plague! Won’t          ever warm to the idea of an adorable pet           age of six. However, the potential guinea pig
                                                         earwig. But the domesticated rat is quite          owner should bear in mind that guinea pigs
   someone think of the bubonic plague?!”
       All right, to be fair, the British relationship   removed from the dumpster diving variety           require more space, more grooming and also
                                                         seen gorging on week-old McDonald’s in a           shed (unless you get a hairless one, but per
   with rats is one of mutual terrorism. Rats car
                                                         trash can.                                         sonally, I find the idea of putting the words
   ried the fleas that spread the bubonic plague,
   and the Brits retaliated nicely by inventing                                                             cuddle, hairless and pig in the same sentence
                                                          ~* Picking a Pet                                  revolting, but then again, I am also shallow).
   the sport of rat baiting. Funnily enough, it
                                                         In my search for a new pet, I considered lots of   Despite their larger size, guinea pigs are very
   was Queen Victoria’s official rat catcher, Jack
   Black, who noticed that rats were not all un          common domestic rodents: hamsters, mice,           delicate, so great care needs to be taken in
   sociable fur balls of disease. It was he who          gerbils, guinea pigs (but not rabbits; rabbits     holding them or having them on furniture,
                                                         are lagomorphs, not rodents), but everything       since a fall can easily be fatal.
                                                                                Dedicated to t e compassionate care of all creatures

     Charming as they maybe, though, I think       called porphyrin. Some rats will have spots       so just out of spite. It’s much better to name
I would still take a rat. I’d take two rats, in    of it under their nose fairly regularly, and al   them for comical juxtaposition. So I’d like
fact, since they are happiest when kept with       though it won’t be an emergency, it can some      to introduce you to Astaroth and Lord
at least one same-sex buddy. Actually, they’re     times mean illness is looming on the horizon.     Hum lebottom.
probably rapturously happy with an opposite-       Overall, look for a rat that is curious and ac       My future children won’t be thanking me
sex buddy, but the same cannot be said for the     tive with clear, bright eyes and a sleek coat.    either.
inevitable several hundred ratlets and for the
frazzled owner, who could not possibly keep        * Respect Your Rodent
or place them all, thereby dooming them to         Something I’ve come across repeatedly is
poor care and poor health. I went with two         the idea of rats and other rodents as “starter
boys in the end, and I have to say, except for     pets.” I find the concept irritating. Dogs and
maybe getting a dog again in some far-off hy       cats require clean shelter, food, water, exer
pothetical future (and a pony), I don’t think      cise, healthcare, and attention. Pet rodents
I’d ever have any other pet.                       require clean shelter, food, water, exercise,
     Caring for Rats                               healthcare, and attention (except for ham
                                                   sters). Their quality of life requires the same
Rats are an absolute delight. Loving, intel        amount of respect as would be offered to a
ligent, full of personality, they are also low-
                                                   puppy. Please do your research, and don’t buy
maintenance, both in terms of work and             them as placeholders for the dog your kid re
wallet. A cage large enough for two set me         ally wants.
back about fifty dollars, and toys can be free         To be passed from home to home or aban
if you’re resourceful. A piece of ribbon, pom      doned in the wild is traumatic for any living
poms from the craft table, an old shirt with a     creature, and just because their bodies are
few tissues and treats hidden in it, and they’re   toy sized does not mean their brains are.
good to go. Other than that, your only on
going cost is for food and bedding. The rats       My boys have been living with me a year now,
themselves were about eleven dollars each          and I wouldn’t give them up for the world. I
from the pet store.                                was going to name them Bubonic and Strep
    In my initial research of rat ownership,       tococcus, just to annoy my detractors, but
nearly every source I found said, if possible,     one look into their precious little faces, and
you should avoid getting a rat at a pet store.     I felt in my heart that it was wrong to do
Your best bet, I was told, was to get them from
a rat breeder. Unfortunately, rat breeders in          I   I           .   -   bottom
Ontario appear to be few and far between,
and I was leery about getting a kind of animal
I’d never taken care of before from a shelter,
in case ofhealth or behavioural issues. Tasked
the vet what he thought of pet stores in Can
ada for purchasing small rodents. In general,
Axelson says the larger chains are okay. Not
perfect, but okay. From my end, here are a few
things to look for:

 ~ Bedding: If the bedding looks like wood                                                                                          b
shavings, ask an employee what kind they
are. If the answer is cedar or pine, walk away.
Cedar and pine bedding contain irritants to
rats’ lungs, setting them up for respiratory is
sues. Aspen or corn cob bedding is okay. Pa
per bedding, like CareFresh, is probably best.
 ~ The Rats: Pick them up (carefully) and
look at them. Listen to their breathing. Is it
harsh? Are they sneezing? Check for red tears
around the eyes and nose. That is a substance


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