Rats Are Cute, But They're Still Dumb Pets

I have several friends who keep rats.  Initially, the rat thing makes perfect sense to me.  They're adorable creatures that are fairly easy to take care of.  Rats have that kind of edgy allure that owning a snake does.  With so many people finding rats repulsive, it sends a well-placed "whatever" to the people who find them disgusting.  If you have ever seen a rat running a wheel inside its cage, you may remember the feeling of delight watching its little feet spin that wheel round and round.  Doesn't he know he's not going anywhere?  And who can forget the feeling of satisfaction when a little rat mouth drinks from his little rat vertically-fed water spigot.  It doesn't look efficient, but boy is that little rat tongue engaged when he drinks from it.

But the problem with rats is they're also vermin.  By that I mean they're not especially keen on being handled, and while exceptions there may be to that previous statement, most of the rats I have seen enjoy running around and smelling things, not getting picked up by humans and carried around the room.  Also, can't you hear the vileness in the word?  Vermin.  Let me say more.

Cats and dogs are valuable domestic animals because they offer comfort at the worst moments in our lives.  Dog and cat owners can attest to the affection these animals provide.  Rat owners will try to argue that the same affection can be provided by rat companionship.  I am here to eviscerate those claims and leave them in a pile of garbage, which a rat would love to chance upon.

Let me address the reasons to own rats.  This list is not exhaustive (there are probably reasons to own rats that have to do with eating the trash that has enveloped your entire room), though I presume that every rat owner believes each them to be true.

1) Rats are a cheap pet that doesn't need a lot of attention.
2) A rat's lifespan is ideal to teach a child the preciousness of life.  In other words, they die early so you don't have to worry too much about taking care of them.
3) Rats are adorable.
4) Rats are cuddly and have a lot of love to give.
5) Rats are as domestic as dogs and cats.
6) Prejudices against rodents are ill-considered charges against them.

Some of these reasons are mere facts and I won't be disputing them.  They are (1), (2), and (6).  Let me address each of them briefly.  (1) is true when we look at the costs of purchasing a rat, its food, and its domicile.  Note that this consideration is hardly a justification for purchasing a rat.  Purchasing and taking care of fruit flies is also cheap.  (2) is similar to justifications for buying goldfish.  The child develops an attachment to the life they take care of that they must relinquish in the face of the inescapable reality of death.  The parent, however, does not develop the attachment, and, with emotional distance, is able to guide the child through mourning.  Even still, a goldfish corpse is easier to dispose of.  (6) can be seen in our fear of disease carrying sewer rats, the kind that are not kept in homes that some nonetheless associate with every instance they see of a creature that resembles one.  Not all rats carry rabies.  Not all dogs go to heaven.

Let me now address the premises I will dispute.  (3) could be said to vary form person to person.  In other words, maybe it's the case that some people find rats cute and others don't.  For those who don't, they don't have to own rats, and for those who do, they can.  The problem with (3) is that the justification for owning a rat doesn't follow from the fact that it's cute.  Other animals that are cute that we shouldn't own include koalas, slow loris, and Drake.  Next.

(4) is something rat owners will cling to for dear life, much like a rat will cling to a piece of cheese.  They will no doubt point to video evidence of a rat desiring to be in physically close to its owner, or someone getting kisses from a rat in a human-rat romantic relation.  Anecdotal evidence including such remarks as, "I've seen my room mate with their rat.  I think they have a really special bond." or "Rats and humans can connect on a very emotional level.  They can grow to rely upon each other."  The fact is rats are teases, and they are known teases.  A rat may become excited when you come home at night, but you give that rat one opportunity for freedom to go its own way and he'll take it.  They are not the kind of animals that are willing to help around the house, like the selfless dog who nobly watches over your possessions while you are away.  Rats lack love because they only believe in themselves.

(5) is and odd assertion considering how demonstrably false it is.  Every time I have been to a friend's house where they let rats run around freely in the room I am shocked at how delusional they are towards the unpredictability of the animal.  Cats have a similar unpredictability.  If you leave the door open and let the cat outside, the cat may disappear for days before arriving back at home, a little bit thinner with a little more life experience, like when you went backpacking in Cambodia and didn't anticipate the stomach infection.  But return they do, and the cat will long to reside in your lap when you are seated in a chair reading, unlike the rat, who is off trying to become part of some kind of awful rat poly relationship.  They're not just selfish; they're hipsters.

The last point I'd like to make is the oddness of adults having affection towards rats.  It's the same kind of feeling I have watching videos of adults who take on dolls for lovers.  When there is such an obvious disconnect between the lover and the beloved as a human and a rat, everyone else is getting a bit creeped out who has to watch the person project such feelings onto such an unworthy being.  We're all waiting for the rat to be put away so we can start watching Game of Thrones, but no one has the guts to say anything because no one wants to say that Santa Clause isn't real.  I hope I have given something for everyone to use when discussing rat ownership with their lost friend.  There is no need to be hostile; gently bring them into rationality with a sustained and reasonable argument.

With the above written rebuttal to a couple key points that rat owners try to make, I believe my work here is done.  I look forward to engaging with rat owners in the future on these issues, so long as they keep the vermin far away from me.

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