Rats!

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I hate to admit this, but we have rats in our house — two large rodents that scurry about with hairless tails and beady eyes. Many people pour thousands of dollars into exterminators to make their homes rat-free, but not us.

We roll out the welcome mat for rodents — and not just any old welcome mat, either. Our beady-eyed friends live in a spacious cage outfitted with matching fleece sleeping tents and a colorful climbing tunnel. That's right, our rats are pets.

You might think I've clearly lost the 'pet battle' (or perhaps lost my mind) but I'll let you in on a little secret: rats are the perfect solution to one of the most terrifying phrases a child can utter — "I want a pet."

Julia first began her pet crusade when she was 3. "Momma, I want a pet...please, please, please," she begged for about a year, until we came up with what is popularly known as the 'fish solution.' It still feels like yesterday when I walked into the kitchen to see Julia's small face pressed against the aquarium glass, eyeing a motionless fish.

"What's wrong with Goldie, Mommy?"

Perhaps it was the fish's pathetically meager life span or its reluctance to be held, but before we knew it the jig was up and we were back to square one.

"We're in over our heads and can't handle or afford a dog right now," Dave cautioned the night the pet pressure got particularly intense. Henry had unexpectedly joined forces with his sister Julia in the battle for a pet and they were wise to our excuses.

The next morning the Boston Globe featured a story on a woman who ran a local rattery. She bred and sold pet rats. Once I recovered from the shock of the picture of a woman with rats resting on her shoulders, I became intrigued.

After school that day we visited her web site and viewed the photographs of the baby rats 'waiting for adoption.' There Julia found "Cookie" and "Chipmunk" looking at us with their little beady baby rat eyes.

Two and a half years later, we're all satisfied with our pets — Julia and Henry like the fact that the rats like being held and hand-fed, and Dave and I appreciate how low-maintenance they are. Though I still try to hide behind a display when Julia bellows at the grocery store, "Don't forget the rat food!"



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