Pet Rats

In my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, I use a rat as a symbol for the mysterious “enemy” that Valeria and Theo encounter. The rat that pops up here and there is also a representation of the pestilence the children go up against in medieval Italy, the Black Death. Our black rat of the book is not a nice guy. 

I watched a documentary several months ago on Netflix called “Rats.” I’m not even going to try to explain it. I’ll let Wikipedia do that.


The film primarily focuses on rat infestations and exterminations, including methods such as night-patrol teams in Mumbai snapping rats’ necks and the practice of rat-baiting in England. Much of the documentary has been considered a detailing of “the ‘war’ against rats”, featuring “bashing, slicing, dissecting and poisoning”. The director also journeys to the Karni Mata Temple in Rajasthan, India, where over 35,000 black rats are revered by devotees who believe them to be reincarnated human beings.

Release and Reception:

The documentary premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13, 2016. The film premiered on television on October 22, 2016, airing on the Discovery Channel.

The Daily Telegraph reported on the film’s trailer for its “stomach-churning footage” and “disturbing scenes”, with writer Rebecca Hawkes noting that the trailer’s footage, which includes live rats being killed by terriers, “will likely provoke a strong response from viewers”. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the documentary “plays much like a horror film”, and in reference to the terrier scene, called it “an absolute bloodbath … with filters appropriate for a zombie apocalypse”. Wendy Ide of The Guardian wrote that the film is “gleefully exploitative in its approach, and as such, it is horribly entertaining”. Peter Debruge of Variety called the film “super-disgusting” and “[un]fair to the animals in question, who would surely view this as a grisly, “Faces of Death”-style marathon of murder”, writing that “rarely has a filmmaker more blatantly manipulated the material he has collected to game his audience”.

There you have it: Rats. But what about real rats? As in “pet rats?”

When my sister and I were younger, we had a pair of pet rats. They were young and cute. I can’t remember where we got them, but one was white with brown markings, and the other was white with black markings, which was mine. We had no idea what gender they were, but we named them “Shirley” and “Harold,” after our aunt and uncle we especially loved. I don’t know if we ever told them about our rats, but I’m sure they would have been honored to know we named our rats after them. 

They lived in a cage that was really too small. We would lay down layers of newspapers, which they would promptly tear up into a huge pile of shreds and burrow around in, pooping and peeing on it. When my dad would notice the odor, he would order us to clean the cage. Only when he said that did I think, Oh! Yes, I guess it smells a little bit! 

We took them out of the cage fairly often, as I recall. My favorite thing was to set a rat up on my shoulder and let it nuzzle around, weaving through my long curly hair. Several times my sister and I took our rats on expeditions. We walked up to our little elementary school just up the lane from our house, rats on shoulders. The kindergarten had a completely enclosed play yard. The wall was made of smooth, painted concrete blocks. We climbed over the wall (I’m still trying to remember exactly how we did that!) and let our rats run around while we played with them. The only place we had to keep them away from was a gate off to the corner, which they could have crawled under. Bell bottoms were coming into fashion, and sometimes our rats would decided to run under the hem and dash up our legs. The only scary thing about that was I was afraid it would crawl up so far it would get wedged in and then squished as I tried to extricate it. 

Those little rats were sturdy and continued to thrive in spite of our lack of knowledge on how to care for them. Eventually, we re-homed them to someone else who wanted them.

I think a rat can be a great pet. But just like the wild dogs in my book, rats as pests are another matter. When you read my book, I hope you enjoy the creepy moments when the rat pops up in the story!

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