Rats: fuzzy friends or fiendish foes? - Macleans.ca

Rats: fuzzy friends or fiendish foes?

Montrealers see them as a scourge; in B.C. they’re coddled house pets


One man’s trash may be another man’s treasure, but it turns out the well-worn cliché doesn’t just apply to human refuse. Lizzy O Sullivan, president of the “rat fanciers club” RatsPack North West, says one person’s scourge is another’s coddled house pet. “They’re like little dogs,” says the founder of Sith Rattery, one of the country’s most recognizable domestic rat breeders. “They’re loyal and they’re affectionate.”

Last week, O Sullivan hosted “Ratstravaganza,” in New Westminster, B.C. Canada’s largest rat show features discussions on rodent health care—how to properly clean rats and prevent viral infections—and special awards for rodent attendees. Highlights include prizes for the “longest tail,” the “best costume,” and “kissiest” rats. The popularity of pet rats in B.C. is on the rise, says O Sullivan, with several new ratteries opening across the province this year.

The rat population appears to be spiking at the other end of the country too—though Montrealers see them as a scourge rather than treasure. Repairs to the city’s dilapidated sewer system are driving rats into the open, causing widespread alarm and disgust across the city. Infestation Montréal estimates extermination calls jumped as much as 15 per cent last year, while rat sightings in the Ville-Marie district are up 54 per cent.

O Sullivan insists wild rats like those causing disgust in Montreal are “totally different” from her beloved pets, thanks to years of separate breeding. Whereas wild rats can be destructive and diseased, domestic rats, she says, are welcoming and warm. “They’re a pack animal,” says O Sullivan. “You become part of that pack, and they just accept you like a family member.” To find out, just give this year’s “kissiest” rodent a squeeze.

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Rats: fuzzy friends or fiendish foes?

  1. That’s supposed to be RatsPacNW, meaning Pacific Northwest. Think of these guys as lab rats that have been bred for many generations to be gentle and friendly. Like house dogs rather than wolves. 

    Domestic rats are absolutely awesome pets. Smart, affectionate, cuddly, playful, curious. They like to be gently scratched just like your dog does, and they’ll groom you in return.

  2. Yes that is supposed to be RatsPacNW, which I even recall spelling out during the interview. 

    I also never said anything to the effect that “one person’s scourge is another’s coddled house pet,” or anything even remotely like that.  Instead, I emphasized repeatedly that our domestic rats are a completely different animal from their wild ancestors.  Domestic rats have as much in common with wild rats, as my pet poodle does with a wolf, as anyone familiar with both wild and domestic rats will attest. Just because someone happens to enjoy pet rats, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they would be thrilled to see sewer rats running rampant in their city.    

    Also our domestic rat shows, certainly do not include “discussions on… how to properly clean rats and prevent viral infections.”  What I actually said was that in order to attend shows, pet rats have to be voluntarily quarantined, in other words, kept isolated from other rats, for 3 weeks prior to the show date and carefully monitored for any signs of disease.  This is  because there are no vaccinations available for pet rats like there are for dogs and cats, and yet there are just as many species specific diseases that they can get.  Quarantine is our only defence to prevent the spread of these viruses from one pet rat to another.  The way this article reads, it sounds like pet rats have to be cleaned to prevent them from giving viruses to people.  Pet rats descended from lab rats and are highly unlikely to carry anything that can be passed on to people.  Neither do they need cleaning, as they are instinctively one of the cleanest animals on the planet and bathe themselves more often than a cat.  Most have a very pleasant “grape soda” like smell.

    That stuff I said about rats being great pets?  All true and reasonably accurate!

    Yes, domestic rats are popular pets, but there is no money in breeding them.  Shelters and animal rescue organizations across the country are full of domestic rats that were dumped by people who mistakenly thought there was.  Pet rat breeding is an expensive hobby that people should only get into for pure love of the animal.  If anyone is considering falling in love with domestic rats, your local animal shelter or small animal rescue would be a great starting point.

    • That is such a ridiculous comparison- this should be two separate articles. I can’t say much more than Lizzy, but there is a very good reason that these animals are used in labs!