If you consult any person or site familiar with rats and their care, you will be advised: always get two or more, to provide companionship for one another.
The first two times I had rats, I always heeded this advice, actively searching for pairs. Rats are extremely social– in the wild, they live in packs and are always interacting with each other. They crave the presence of another being who understands their world.
The problem with the two (or even three or four) rat approach, though not a problem initially, is when they begin to fall ill and pass on. Generally, one is always going to be left alone in their old (or young, depending on the others cause of death) age.
What is a loving rat owner to do? A new rat for companionship is not a prudent option, as most that you find in shelters (I do not support buying rats from pet shops) are young, and won’t always take to your current one (there are ways of easing rats together with good results, but that’s for another post!). Senior rats are rare to come by, too, for many reasons.
When contemplating what to do in this predicament, I propose a shift in thinking: what if you can be a rat? What if you can communicate with them? What if you can take the place of a lost pack member?
I never contemplated this idea until about a year and a half ago, when Vi, our current rat at the time, lost her sister PJ to uterine cancer. At the time, we weren’t educated about the importance of spaying, and didn’t know that neglecting to have the operation drastically increases the risk of reproductive cancer. In any case, Vi was left alone. For weeks she was visibly depressed at the loss of her sister and lifelong companion
(as was I!).
And then a miraculous thing began to happen. Vi began to let us in. She let us in to her world, returned our affections– she groomed us, interacted with us on a more personal level. She accepted us into her pack, as another rat!
I credit Vi with opening my eyes to the true wonders of rats and their world. Losing her was so hard, but left me determined and hopeful– this shift in thinking had huge repercussions for rats and their owners everywhere! It would show people that you can have a relationship with a rat that, much like with a dog, would be a more intimate and fulfilling. People would understand that they are not toys or things to experiment upon ruthlessly!
My next rat friend, Junior, further opened my eyes. And my current rat, Vinny (whom you have no doubt heard plenty about before!), is the shining example of what a true rat-human relationship can be. The next step I took, by taking the two baby rats “under my wing” (Robin and Twiggy), is my work with replicating that same relationship experience in a group of rats. And I’m happy to say that every day, I am more and more being part of my little pack! Of course, it helps that I am unschooled and spend much of my time at home. I think that is a very important factor!
Now, to make myself clear, this idea of having a better relationship with your rat is not about anthropomorphizing. It’s not about turning them into mini human beings!
No– it’s about seeing eye-to-eye with a creature that is more like you and I than we may realize. It’s about seeing the fact that these little furry animals– that can fit into the palm of your hand–have more to say and offer than anyone may before have thought possible.