Rat this way
One household’s descent into deliberate rat infestation
After much pet-pleading from Desi and some complicated parental calculus (not wanting to get another dog [re: kitchen pee puddles + allergies] + biting reputation of hamsters and guinea pigs + smell and illegality of ferrets ÷ known smarts, affection and trainability of rats), we caved and agreed to get a family rat. Or really two rats. Some preliminary research revealed that rats are very social and get depressed if forced to scamper solo, so people in rat circles (there is of course a very vibrant and opinionated online rat community) strongly recommend you get a least two.
We discovered a local rat rescue organization (!!!), and filled out their surprisingly epic adoption request form, which included a whole section on the impressively large cage we would be required to have on hand before our adoption could go through, something that would be confirmed via a home visit (!!!). We ordered a nice powder-coated steel rat condo with two floors, a rattic, 2 bedrooms, a hammock and a nice corner bathroom for $25 per cubic foot, or $100 total.
And then we waited. And waited. Weeks went by. Our sad lonely luxury rat home stood empty, waiting expectantly. Apparently our request for two young females (thanks to Desi getting an eyeful of some disturbingly giant male rat balls through the course of our research) was proving hard to accommodate.
So we widened our search. We reached out to a traveling rat adoption fair (!!!) that makes appearances around the bay area, only to find that they too were out of females. We emailed 3 or 4 breeders on Craigslist, but didn’t hear back.
Then one Saturday, we got a bite. Some guy in Petaluma (about 2 hours away) had 2 young females ready to go, and he was willing to drive the rats somewhere halfway between our two towns. He suggested a Safeway in Novato, where we could meet out by the dumpsters in the back.
Marco: “A dumpster behind the Safeway in Novato? That sounds really weird.”
Me: “What it sounds like is an ADVENTURE.”
We were just about to hit the road when another email landed in our inbox. It was from some dude named Randy, who had a rat farm (!!!) out in Hayward, and they were flush with female rats. Bonus: All their adoptable rats had the big cute wide-set dumbo ears.
Me: “You know what sounds like an even bigger adventure? A RAT FARM IN SUBURBAN HAYWARD.”
So we cancelled our dumpster-delivery, flipped a U-turn, and headed to Hayward.
We found the farm incongruously nestled in the middle of a normal block of average middle-class homes. Randy’s son came out to greet us, and to warn us about their vicious rooster, who was hiding behind a bush and had a long history of flapping out to surprise peck people. We nodded appreciatively and gave the bush a wide berth.
Then Randy himself came out and walked us over to the garage, where there was an open enclosure of ducks, waddling and quacking. Off to the side was this wall of drawers. Randy motioned us over, and slid open a drawer to reveal a whole cuddle pile of snoozing rats. Then he slid open the next drawer to reveal another squirm of rats. There were a good 20 rat drawers in all, each separated by age, color and, most importantly for population preventative measures, gender.
We picked out a few ladies in a variety of colors and Desi took turns holding them to see which ones liked him best, even though Randy kept saying that they didn’t have personalities yet and were really all the same. And indeed they all seemed to do a very similar job of pooping and scrambling around. Finally we sort of randomly picked one from the gray-hooded drawer and one from the hazelnut-hooded drawer.
Randy took a screwdriver, stabbed some breathing holes into an old Amazon box, dropped in the rats, and taped up the box with a few good turns of duct tape.
As I fished out my wallet (today Randy had a special going on: 2 for $20), Marco stood there balancing the rat box in his open hand. Just then, the rats inside lurched, and the box started to slide. Marco gave a panicked grunt and contorted through a series of dramatic failed juggling moves, but despite the high-comedy gymnastics, the box landed on the grass with an ominous thump.
Me: “Oh mannnnnn. Worst pet owners ever!?”
Randy the Rat Guy: STONEFACED.
Me: “Maybe we could return these and get a pair that isn’t all shooken up?”
Me: “Hahaha! You know, like cans of soda? That was me, trying to make a joke.”
Marco: Quietly gathers up the box and we all retreat to the car.
Then we drove them home, ripped open the box, and the two little rat-girls crawled out, good as new—no foaming or spraying. Desi named the one with the gray hood Sho-Sho (for…reasons he still refuses to explain) and the hazelnut hoodie Apple (also no explanation).