Separately and together, Rita and I have had pet rats for eighteen years, and they're all-around great pets. When it comes to small animals, parents of smart kids would do well to adopt a pet rat.
Too many parents try to fob off a gerbil or hamster onto a child, not comprehending the extremely aggressive and stupid temperament of both. Rats, on the other hand, display smarts, resourcefulness, affection, and sweet-naturedness that put most people to shame. Much of the time, when you see a mouse doing intelligent, resourceful things in a fiction film, you're actually watching a baby rat do it. They're sharp as tacks, those little guys. I speak from a great many years of experience.
Western culture has always feared and maligned the rat, mainly because of the rodent PR nightmare that was the Bubonic Plague. But the Chinese viewed these misunderstood creatures with high regard (the rat occupies the first position of the twelve animals comprising the ancient Chinese zodiac). The ancient Chinese were onto something. Again, I speak from a great many years of experience.
I've launched onto this particular tangent because Zatoichi, our pet rat, died in his sleep earlier today. He lived to a respectably ripe old age (3 and 1/4 years) by rat standards, but that doesn't keep me--us--from being very, very sad.
Rita named him after the heroic Blind Swordsman played by Shintaro Katsu. 'Ichi the rat was a sweet-natured, happy little friend of the family; a Siamese-colored Rex rat who was always ready with a kiss and eager to explore every last nook and cranny of the homestead. He played with your hands and fingers with the unbridled glee of a family dog. He was a cool little guy. And as ridiculous as it sounds to the uninitiated, I think he loved his mom and dad a lot. The feeling was mutual.
The above picture was taken around Christmas. Rita's artist friend Teri Velazquez made the cool angel doll at left. It's a nice reminder.
Goodbye, handsome boy. I'll miss you.