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Oh, rats, more mouths to feed

"This week's column is going to be about rats."

My daughter, Celeste, wrote the line just above. She's determined for rats to be my subject, although I told her I'm not so sure I want the world to know we have rats. I mean, we don't get a lot of company as it is, and we're still new to the neighborhood and all.

If you're worrying that we have a rat infestation, it's not that at all. We actually paid good money to have rats in our house. Well, Celeste did. It was her money. Rats are surprisingly affordable. Only $6 each.

Yes, I said "each." We can't seem to do animals in the singular form. Our ark now includes two dogs, two rats and three cats. As I'm typing these words, one of those rats, Lucy, is nearly asleep in the pocket of my shirt, scrunched in a tight U-shape, clutching the end of her tail in one delicate hand. She is - dare I say it - quite beautiful.

This is hardly the first time I've been charmed by a rat, but those before these walked on two legs (and were far less concerned about fitness, grooming and leafy green vegetables).

Over the years, I've had my share of the more socially acceptable rodents as pets, among them a lecherous teddy-bear hamster named Phred (who pressed his face to the glass of his aquarium each time I undressed) and a pair of mice (Starsky and Hutch, though they should've been Oscar and Felix since one was a prissy neatnik and the other a slob), but never a rat.

Still, I've always been curious about them, especially after hearing their virtues being so highly touted by Evelyn, one of my classiest and most intelligent friends. So after Celeste and I recently watched a show about rats and she immediately began campaigning for one, I said, "Ask Geoff."

It was, I admit, one of those parental lobs. I fully expected Geoff to say no. I would've actually laid money on him saying no. In our house, his is often the voice of reason, the voice that can gently explain that we already have enough pets. Instead: "Sure. Rats are great. I'm all about rats."

There was actually more to it than that. Celeste had research to do, information to acquire, money to save. She considered ease of cleaning and the comfort and space requirements of two rats when choosing their cage. She didn't cheap out. There are likely some college freshmen out there who would kill for similar accommodations.

But nothing's too good for Lucy and Ethel.

Lucy is boisterous, friendly and affectionate. A true shoulder rat. When you put your hand in their cage, she steps on like elevator doors have just opened and she's ready to ride. If given a choice between food and human attention, she chooses attention.

Ethel chooses food.

Ethel and I have much in common. Food, sleep and quiet are treasured. That whole wheel/

treadmill thing - not so much.

We had nearly given up on them ever using the wheel ("With guaranteed tail-safe shield!") since for the first few weeks, neither showed any interest. Then this Monday, close to midnight, an exhausted-looking Celeste stumbled into our room.

"Lucy discovered the wheel," she said.

"Sure she did," said Geoff. "Did she discover fire, too?"

"Ha, ha," said my sleep- and humor-deprived daughter as she confiscated my earplugs.

Maybe that's why she was so determined for me to write about rats. So her friends and teachers will understand the reason behind those dark circles under her eyes.

Karin Fuller can be reached via e-mail at karinfuller@cnpapers.com. Her columns can be accessed online through her blog at thegazz.com.


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