Articles

Tales of a Traveling Rat

This page was made as a companion to my article Daytripping: Out and About With Your Rat, but will be continually updated, so check back often!

The First Outing | The Model | Publico | The Art Walk

The First Outing

One of my favorite things to do on a beautiful spring day was to leash up my dog, grab a book, and walk up to the park for a nice relaxing read. It was very peaceful up there, with a beautiful view of the river, and I was often reluctant to return home to my dark and breezeless apartment. It occured to me one day that the rats might enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, so I rigged up a travel case by lining an old purse with paper towels, popped in Voltaire (my more adventurous rat) and off to the park we went. Of course, Voltaire was not content to stay inside the purse, and had soon scurried up to my shoulder, sniffing the air excitedly. Unwilling to stay still, he darted from shoulder to shoulder, back down to the purse and out again, and finally crawled down my shirt, where he settled down, tail poking out of my collar-- a strange site to see, I'm sure!

I couldn’t help but grin as I passed people, some with expressions of puzzlement or disbelief. Other people would approach, warily; “Is that a rat?”

“Yes,” I would reply, grinning like a fool. Some would engage me in conversation, but most would back away, as if the rat might leap at them at any time.

After a lap around the park I settled down on the bench and set the purse down beside me, so that he would have the choice of hiding inside or coming out for some fresh air and sunshine.

Our visit at the park was short and sweet, but it was far from our last.

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The Model

For my drawing class, we were assigned to create a creature of our own, with at least one aspect drawn from life. I decided to draw a Drat (a dog-rat), and model the tail off my rat Voltaire. This meant I needed to bring him to school to model, which I did one day after clearing it with my teacher.

I put Voltaire in his carrier and packed a little bowl for water, his snacks, his pillow, and a small length of rick-rack to use as a leash. There was this little square on wheels in the classroom that models often pose on, so I cleared it off and let him scramble around on it while I drew.

I saw two basic reactions to him-- either people loved him and thought he was sweet or they were terrified of him. My drawing teacher thought he was adorable, as did my Foundations teacher, whom I actually dragged in to see Voltaire, as she was the one who gave me the idea to bring him in the first place. (She'd said a couple of years ago she'd had a girl in class who would bring her mouse to school).

Whenever I would get a drink at the water fountain or use the copier I would put Voltaire on my shoulder to ride around with me. Sometimes while I was drawing I'd let him climb all over me. I enjoyed taking him around and he seemed to enjoy himself. He only really got frightened once, when a boy walked in, saw the rat, screamed and jumped about a foot in the air. It was quite hilarious. Volty seemed to take most of it in stride, and he was always sniffing around. When he got tired he would curl up on his pillow in the carrier.

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Publico

Around the corner from my apartment is a little place called Publico, a gallery space that also houses live music from time to time. The fact that I know one of the owners, coupled with the closeness to home, prompted me one night to bring my rat Morgenstern along to a show. I plopped him into my handy rat purse and headed off.

There was a small crowd outside the door when arrived. Right as I was walking up the steps, Morgie decided to leap out of my purse and land on the steps, completely defying my wish to be inconspicuous. Although I quickly scooped him up and hid him under my shawl, the trio near the steps had noticed. The girl stared at me, grinned and said "That was perfect." Figuring I had nothing to lose, I joined the group and introduced myself and my traveling companion. The girl held Morgie and marveled at how well behaved he was. She asked if I was allowed to bring rats to shows, and I explained that I'm usually fairly sneaky about it. After a bit more conversation, mostly rat related, we went our separate ways.

Once inside I settled down in a chair with Morgenstern in my lap. The trio from outside came and sat next to me, and every once in a while they'd ask me how he was doing, and I'd pull up my shawl to show them. Morgie was a little restless at first, but after a while he settled down in my nap to rest. It wasn't a loud concert, mostly acoustic, so I wasn't concerned about Morgenstern's hearing. For his part, he was very well behaved, and did a dutiful job of acting adorable whenever anyone inquired about him. Altogether, it was a nice night of bonding and exploring, with a bit of ratty PR thrown into the mix.

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The Art Walk

Every last Friday of the month, my community hosts a Final Friday art walk, where all the galleries are open, and generally Opening and Closing receptions take place. In my attempts to be more social and participate more in the artistic community, I usually make an attempt at attending these, especially since one of the galleries (the Tutu Gallery) is in the same building as my apartment, and opens onto my courtyard. So it was that this particularly friday I wandered over to the Tutu gallery and promptly ran into someone I knew from school. Upon chatting a moment, he asked how my rats were doing, and I replied that he could ask them himself.

As the gallery was just nextdoor, I didn't even bother putting the rats into their travel bag, but just slung them onto my shoulder. I try to be polite and not take my rats indoors in confined places, so my friend and I stood outside the gallery to talk, myself with rats on shoulder. This garnered me a lot of attention indeed. To start, I was standing there chatting when from the corner of my eye a noticed a girl and boy talking about something, and finally the boy nudges the girl and says "Just ask her", at which point the girl comes up to me, camera in hand, and asks to take a picture of my 'hamsters'. In laughed and said they were rats, but she was free to take a picture of them. Although surprised, the girl wasn't put off, and was actually very friendly. She took multiple pictures of the boys and we got into a long discussion about the virtues of rats as pets.

Of course, things picked up from there. There were a great deal of people streaming back and forth to the galleries, and myself just standing along the sidewalk talking. A lot of people didn't notice the rats, or they'd do a double take then keep walking, but quite a few times groups would cluster around me to ask what they were, and I had quite a few nice discussions and requests for pictures. I even persuaded quite a few people to pet or hold the rats. Some of my most frequent questions/comments included, "Their tails are like snakes!", "They're so big!", "They're so mellow/well-behaved!" and of course "Won't they jump down and run away?" Rezzie and Matigan were both surprisingly well behaved, being that they're such terrors at home, but I imagine it's similar to the children who only behave when you're around other people. As it was, the boys were very relaxed and calm the entire night, and spent a good deal of time on my shoulders or attempting to crawl down my shirt (which is fun, standing on the street corner trying to fish a rat out of your t-shirt!). We spent a good three hours in this situation, the boys receiving lots of praise and pets and even part of a brownie, and finally returned home, where the boys settled in for a long nap.

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All text, images, and content copyright Lori Weeder © 2006 unless otherwise noted.