Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The case of the Fancy Rat
Rats? Who keeps rats as pets? One would think they might be raised to feed the huge bald python living in the basement. Or perhaps they weren't rats, but hamsters? Nope. These are special rats, fancy rats. When this complaint rolled across my desk I asked myself, "What the hell is a fancy rat?" I opened up the Goggle machine and was amazed at just what I found.
"The fancy rat is a domesticated brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), which is the most common type of pet rat. The name fancy rat derives from the idea of animal fancy or the phrase, "to fancy" (to like, or appreciate)...
Really? Bloodsport? I just had to dig deeper and found that there is an American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association homepage. I found rather a disturbing history article by Nichole Royer that states due to an "...excess in the rodent population led to a rather unusual sport. In Victorian England, great numbers of wild rats were captured for use in rat pits. This pastime was particularly popular in London and involved placing a large number of rats in an enclosure with a dog. The dog would then proceed to dispatch as many rats as possible, and the one who killed the largest number in the shortest time was declared the winner. Bets were placed on the dogs and large sums of money exchanged hands at these establishments."
Did this person keep rats as pets? Okay... ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, but rats, with the long hairless tails? Yep. My customer calmly told me it was her husband's rat. When asked if she had more than one rat, she wanted to know why that mattered. The good news is that domesticated rats "pose no more of a health risk than other common pets. For example, domesticated brown rats are not considered a plague threat, while exposure to wild rat populations could introduce diseases like Salmonella into the home. While fancy rats are subject to different health risks than their wild counterparts, they are consequently less likely to succumb to other illnesses prevalent in the wild." Thanks again to wikipedia. I could tell my company with reasonable certainty that no one would be exposed to the plague!