Archive for Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rat pack

Pet rats enjoying new respectability thanks to popularity of animated film ‘Ratatouille’

Lily Allen, 10, Lawrence, is the owner of Vanessa, a hairless rat. Lily got Vanessa in February 2006, before the popular movie "Ratatouille."

Lily Allen, 10, Lawrence, is the owner of Vanessa, a hairless rat. Lily got Vanessa in February 2006, before the popular movie "Ratatouille."

July 31, 2007


Lily Allen, 10, Lawrence, is the owner of Vanessa, a hairless rat. Lily got Vanessa in February 2006, before the popular movie "Ratatouille." That film and others featuring the rodents in prominent pet roles have stirred up a new respectability for rats among Lawrence pet owners.

Lily Allen, 10, Lawrence, is the owner of Vanessa, a hairless rat. Lily got Vanessa in February 2006, before the popular movie "Ratatouille." That film and others featuring the rodents in prominent pet roles have stirred up a new respectability for rats among Lawrence pet owners.

A Parisian rat named Remy becomes a respected chef in the Disney summer blockbuster "Ratatouille." Lawrence pet store owners say the rodents make good pets.

A Parisian rat named Remy becomes a respected chef in the Disney summer blockbuster "Ratatouille." Lawrence pet store owners say the rodents make good pets.

Ratatouille ***

This may be the first Pixar movie that is so advanced, so sophisticated, it doesn't feel like it was made for kids. On a fundamental level, sure, children will probably enjoy watching the adventures of a plucky Parisian rat as he leaves the colony to pursue his dream of becoming a gourmet chef. But there's nothing silly or childlike about it

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This may be the Chinese year of the pig, but in Hollywood it's the year of the rat.

The animated film "Ratatouille" - which details how a Parisian rat becomes a respected chef - is one of the summer's top blockbusters. Other movies such as the latest "Harry Potter" feature the rodents in prominent pet roles.

As a result, rats are enjoying new respectability among Lawrence pet owners.

"'Ratatouille' is one of the first movies that has shown rats in a positive light rather than showing them as dirty creatures with giant fangs who eat human flesh," says Jessi Levine.

A proud owner of six rats, Levine is an employee of Petco, 3115 Iowa, which also sells the animals. She eagerly went to the theater to see "Ratatouille" on opening day.

"I told everybody I talked to after I saw it that - because I'm around rats all the time - I was really freaking out whenever any of the rats were in trouble," she says. "It was like watching a real rat be in trouble. So I was interacting with the characters more than a lot of people probably would."

Whether hairless, tail-less or Dumbo variety (named for their larger ears), rats are considered to be clever and social creatures. As with keeping any pets, there are pros and cons that accompany them.

On the pro side, rats are easy to tame and less skittish than other rodents such as hamsters or guinea pigs. The nocturnal mammals bite far less than their reputation might suggest. They also are meticulously clean.

On the con side, they require a large cage and do better when kept in pairs. They also have a tendency to urine-mark when they roam, even when held by humans.

Levine says, "Each rat has a very unique personality. They know who you are. You're not just an owner to them, you're another rat. You're like a part of their family. They want to play with you and groom you and feed you. They're so incredibly smart. Mine all know tricks and know their own name. They'll do tricks for treats."

Ratty tat tat

"She's not cute," Cary Allen says of the rat that belongs to her 10-year-old daughter, Lily. "But she's made a great pet."

The Allens acquired the hairless rat 18 months ago, and it's become quite a conversation piece.

"The first reaction I get most from people is they'll ask, 'What's in there?,'" Cary says of the critter, which is kept on a shelf.

"She'll come out of this round basket she sleeps in, and when people see her they say, 'Why? Why would you have this thing?'"

"The thing" goes by different names, depending on whom you ask in the family.

Lily calls the rat Vanessa. Cary calls her Miss Ratty.

"I don't know if most of my friends have seen the movie," Lily says of "Ratatouille."

But the youngster saw it and mentions the lead rat, Remy, "reminded her of Vanessa."

As for the best part about her pet?

"I like having something to hold," Lily says.

Pets or feeders

Pet rats are sold in Lawrence for prices ranging from $14.99 to $19.99.

Pet World, 711 W. 23rd St., also carries rats based on availability from private breeders. Store manager Jacki Wigington says she hasn't noticed extra interest brought on by the movie. But she says the beasts typically make good pets.

"There's a difference between fancy pet rats and feeder rats. Fancy rats are bred for handling; feeders are for feeding reptiles and snakes," Wigington says.

Those potential rat owners who are mulling over the option might assume their new purchase could accidentally become a "feeder" if exposed to other household pets.

Before Levine started working at Petco, she actually came in to the store to pick up toys for her cats.

"I saw the rats playing together, and I fell in love," she says.

When mingling the two species, she was pleasantly surprised that the situation didn't develop into a Tom and Jerry or Itchy and Scratchy showdown.

"Now, my oldest cat couldn't care less about them. He doesn't even seem to realize they exist. My youngest cat will watch them, but she never tries to bother them," Levine says.

Ironically, the Allen family owns a rat terrier named Pup.

"We kind of tried to introduce Pup and (Miss Ratty/Vanessa)," Cary recalls. "My husband was holding her down for the dog to sniff. She just jumped out of his hands and ran across the floor and hid. We haven't tried to do that again."


Calliope877 10 years, 1 month ago

I agree! Rats are awesome pets! I've had my two boys for over a year now and they're the sweetest rodents in the world. People who come over are astounded by how tame and gentle they are. :)

sunderam 10 years, 1 month ago

As a rat owner, I agree with this article - they are wonderful pets. BUT - I have to disagree with the worker who said "feeder rats" are for feeding and fancy rats are for pets. "Feeder" rats can make wonderful loving pets. 5 of the 8 rats I've had in my life have been "feeders" and they were just as loving and intelligent as the others. More even - at the store in question they are kept in the back in small drawers that are crowded and in conditions I'd never keep an animal (unless it's been changed) and they seem to understand that their situation has changed for the better when they're adopted. Of course to the people who only breed them for feeding and don't interact with them they'd seem less friendly. If the workers made friends with them, they wouldn't be able to sell them to certain death. "Feeder" rats and fancy rats both are wonderful.

sunderam 10 years, 1 month ago

a ps on my earlier comment about "feeders" If you've never had a rat and want to save a "feeder" I'd recommend adopting babies. Older "feeders" who've been treated badly or not at all will take some socializing before they're tame and may bite. But babies don't take long at all - in my experience they become friendly as soon as the "fancy" rats. But it is possible they could nip at first until they get used to being handled. Of all my "feeders", only one did this at all though and 2 of the ones who didn't were adults. If you have the patience and experience though, by all means adopt any age "feeder" or "fancy"

Kontum1972 10 years, 1 month ago

i remember Ratatouille on a stick in Da Nam.....wif a side of nookmam' a bottle of Tiger beer.....mmmm...yum yum..!

Kontum1972 10 years, 1 month ago

there making a movie about a Badger next....quess there will a big run on those as pets! Huney call petco!

jessibean 10 years, 1 month ago

I'm the Jessi Levine that was interviewed for this article, and I was pleased with how it came out - except for the comment of feeders versus fancies. All rats are one species - Rattus norvegicus - and so called 'feeder rats' can make wonderful pets - three of my own have been feeder rats, and have been the best out of them all!

I'm so happy I was given the opportunity to be interviewed for this article! Rats are my passion, and they are some of the most misunderstood animals in the world. Be sure to visit the table I run annually at the Lawrence Humane Society's animal fair this fall - all about rats! And you'll get a chance to meet some of mine!

Calliope877 10 years, 1 month ago

Aren't feeder rats usually brown? Or do they come in a variety of colors like fancy rats do? I agree that overall there is no difference between the two as far as making good pets is concerned. I've never personally had a "feeder" as a pet, but a former co-worker of mine did and she said it was a sweet little thing -- it was just a dull brown color, and she bought it at Pet World originally to feed to her snake, but the snake died or something so her daughter ended up keeping the rat as a pet.

Calliope877 10 years, 1 month ago


It was a great article!:) I agree that rats are very misunderstood and I think it's mostly because of their wild cousins. People don't realize that a domesticate rat is the equivalent to a domesticated dog, so much so that they are often referred to as "palm-sized dogs": domesticated dogs are a far cry from their wolfy cousins/ancestors and the same goes for domesticated rats compared to wild rats. I think another reason why people don't like them is simply because of their hairless tails. That used to gross me out too, but their cute little faces and distinct personalities make up for that ugly tail. Friends and family I've introduced my two boys to have commented that they don't even notice their tails anymore.:)

Danielle Brunin 10 years, 1 month ago

Its my understanding that feeders don't have as desirable traits as "fancies." However, I rescued three girls several years ago and they were some of the best pets anyone could have. These girls were white, but they come hooded, blue, agouti, black, etc. Rats are just good pets, regardless of how they're classified. My two-year old has adopted my little brown rat and they are the best of friends. He carries her around and puts her in containers and she just puts up with it because she loves the attention. When she has had enough, she goes back to her cage. I highly recommend rats for children rather than hamsters and gerbils. Rats have much better dispositions and I have yet to meet one that will bite. The same can't be said for hamsters and gerbils.

Calliope877 10 years, 1 month ago

Yeah, hamsters and gerbils are stupid, so are mice. Guniea pigs don't do anything and they're high maintenance because all they do is eat, sleep, and potty (same with rabbits). A ferret is another rodent young kids should stay away from -- they have super sharp teeth and they've been known to bite. I personally have never had a good encounter with a ferret...but I'm sure there are some nice ones out there.

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