Rats: fuzzy friends or fiendish foes?

Montrealers see them as a scourge; in B.C. they’re coddled house pets

One man’s trash may be another man’s treasure, but it turns out the well-worn cliché doesn’t just apply to human refuse. Lizzy O Sullivan, president of the “rat fanciers club” RatsPack North West, says one person’s scourge is another’s coddled house pet. “They’re like little dogs,” says the founder of Sith Rattery, one of the country’s most recognizable domestic rat breeders. “They’re loyal and they’re affectionate.”

Last week, O Sullivan hosted “Ratstravaganza,” in New Westminster, B.C. Canada’s largest rat show features discussions on rodent health care—how to properly clean rats and prevent viral infections—and special awards for rodent attendees. Highlights include prizes for the “longest tail,” the “best costume,” and “kissiest” rats. The popularity of pet rats in B.C. is on the rise, says O Sullivan, with several new ratteries opening across the province this year.

The rat population appears to be spiking at the other end of the country too—though Montrealers see them as a scourge rather than treasure. Repairs to the city’s dilapidated sewer system are driving rats into the open, causing widespread alarm and disgust across the city. Infestation Montréal estimates extermination calls jumped as much as 15 per cent last year, while rat sightings in the Ville-Marie district are up 54 per cent.

O Sullivan insists wild rats like those causing disgust in Montreal are “totally different” from her beloved pets, thanks to years of separate breeding. Whereas wild rats can be destructive and diseased, domestic rats, she says, are welcoming and warm. “They’re a pack animal,” says O Sullivan. “You become part of that pack, and they just accept you like a family member.” To find out, just give this year’s “kissiest” rodent a squeeze.