My Friend, Sniffles: Lessons from a Pet Rat
by Danielle Cookish
My first rat will always hold a special place in my heart. Over the years, I’ve probably had around 30 rat companions, but Sniffles was my first. Before she came into my life, I had only heard from my mom about how social and friendly rats are.
I was 13 years old and Sniffles was the first pet I was solely responsible for. I set up her little house next to my desk and over the first couple of months, she learned to hop down, run over to me, climb all over me, and head back to her cage as needed. Sniffles and I became friends very quickly.
She was pregnant when I got her, so after her babies were born and weaned, I kept one baby to keep her company and found homes for the others.
Sniffles could often be found riding on my shoulder. She was a great listener and it felt as though she knew to look out for me as I entered those teen years. She was so excited when I got home from school every day and she loved belly rubs. Interacting with people brings rats so much joy and enrichment.
Her name came from the little sneezes she’d make when she got excited. It made me smile.
After school, she’d find her way to my shoulder and help with my homework while listening to my tales of woe that I confided in her.
From our first moment when she hopped out of her enclosure and onto my arm in a pet store to thinking about her today, her memory brings me comfort.
Sniffles was the first pet I had who died. The experience was heartbreaking but taught me so much. Sniffles was there during very formative years in my life and taught me important lessons about responsibility, love, and loss.
As an Animal Resource Counselor, I connect people with resources, from emergency food to keep pets in their homes to guiding a family through the process of starting a special bond with a new animal companion, just like I had with Sniffles.
The relationship between rats and humans is beautiful. They make excellent companions and are keen problem-solvers. They’re easily trainable and the bond between a rat and their people is no different than that of a cat or dog. The most difficult part is that the friendship is much shorter. Healthy rats have an average lifespan of around two years.
When I work with people interested in adopting rats, I explain that it’s important to adopt at least two. They are very social animals, want to live in a social area of the home, and experience a better quality of life when with at least one other rat. They love treats, playing with toys, and lounging in hammocks, all of which are heartwarming to watch. Some rats will even use a litter box.
In a shelter setting, rats are sometimes overlooked companions by potential adopters. When a person chooses to adopt rats, I hope that their experience is just as special as Sniffles was to me.
Contributed by Eliza Fischer, Animal Resource Counselor at Dakin Humane Society