Smuggling Rats Across Canada: A Charming Family Memory

Did you know that rats, particularly domesticated “fancy rats” are available in many parts of Canada as pets? Much like a hamster, these little guys are cute and charming companions. My family has a history of having pet rats, starting with my Father.

Before I was born, my Dad had a rat named Studley. He would tell me about how Studly would accompany him on walks, and even swims, and that he was just The Best Rat Ever. Seriously, if you don’t believe me, rats are cute. Look at this ‘lil guy!

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So, one Easter morning in the mid to late 90’s, when we were living in New Brunswick, my little sister and I awoke and ran into the den, where we found the usual candy, chocolate, and little toys awaiting us. After surveying our treasures, our parents peeked into the room and asked if we’d observed the cage yet. We had a large cage on one side of the room which, until recently, had been home to our rather grumpy rabbit, Peter. While Peter was quite old and sadly didn’t make it till Easter, I gazed inside and saw that two new friends were quietly exploring the cage.

My sister and I were delighted and each named one of the rats- we decided to name them after the Rugrats, Tommy and Chuckie. Tommy was my rat, and he was white with grayish markings on his back. Chuckie, my sister’s rat, had a more reddish tinge to his spots (like Chuckie’s hair!)

The rats were so adorable- while many of our family and friends who visited were squeamish of them (particularly of their tails), others would remark at how cutely they munched on their food, how diligently they cleaned themselves, and how curious and smart they were. We would let them crawl over and around us, and they loved perching on our shoulders as we watched TV or did our homework. The two were brothers, and would sleep nestled up curled around each other.

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We loved our rats very much. Domesticated rats live longer than their wild counterparts- about 3 years. Tommy and Chuckie both passed away of “old age” within short time of each-other, and it was one of my first real-life experiences with the end of the natural cycle of life and death.

A short while after Tommy and Chuckie died, my parents got us two new companions to fill the rat-shaped holes in our hearts. I asserted my tween power and declared their names would forever be known as Frodo and Sam, as I was in the middle of reading The Lord of the Rings and enjoying it immensely.

Our new rats were again white with some grayish colorations. Frodo was my little guy, and he was very active, always climbing things and wanting to have a look around. Sam was a bit lazier, but again they were best buddies as well as brothers. Sometimes we would give them pieces of French Toast Crunch cereal, and laugh at how cute they looked crunching on their little rat-sized toasts.

After we’d had Frodo and Sam for a little while, our parents informed us that we were moving to Northern Alberta, to a province far away in the middle of the Boreal Forest. I pictured us living in a quaint little wooden cottage in the middle of nowhere. Great! Sounds fun! But, although my parents didn’t want to alarm us, they mentioned that rats are banned in Alberta. While this policy is meant to keep Alberta free of wild rats, it affects pet rats too.

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This poster is so dramatic. “White rats can only be kept by zoos, universities and colleges as well as recognized research institutions in Alberta. Private citizens may not keep white rats, hooded rats or any of the strains of domesticated Norway rats.” – Alberta.ca

My family is united and defined, perhaps more than anything else, by our love of animals. My Mom has worked at vet clinics and at the SPCA, and we’ve had all sorts of creatures in our home over the years. Our pets are our family, and it was inconceivable to us that we wouldn’t bring the rats to our new home in Alberta. So, we prepared ourselves for Frodo and Sam’s potentially perilous journey.

My Mom actually had both of the rats anesthetized and neutered at her vet clinic (I’m thinking this procedure, for pet rats, is a medical rarity?)- they were both boys, but now there was no possible way they could breed even if they somehow escaped into the wild. I suppose she did this partly so that if we DID get into any trouble at the airport, we’d have at least a chance of keeping them.

So, we finally set out to move, with a large number of critters. Each of us was responsible for at least one pet-carrier, and we took our babies to the airport- a cockatiel (Jerrie), 2 cats (Jill and Smudge), an aging Labrador Retriever (Stinker), and the two rats.

The rats’ carrier was made of thick plastic with thin slots on the sides. Panic gripped me as we approached the security gate to get cleared for our first flight. I watched in terror as the airport staff inspected the carrier, peering inside and craning his head.

“These are…?”

He looked at me quizzically. I steeled myself.

“My hamsters.” I squeaked.

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Whether it was an act of mercy on his part, ignorance of rodent species diversity (or the regulations of our destination province), apathy, or simply not wanting to initiate a dramatic scene, he let us through without any difficulties. I can only imagine the absolute chaos that would have ensued if they had tried to take away our Frodo and Sam. It would have been devastating and traumatic for our whole family, and probably the entire room…

And so, we made it to our new home, safe and sound with our entire family, including the rats. We settled into life in Alberta. You might think that Frodo and Sam, once they lived out their few years on this earth with us, were the last rats my family would know in our new home province. However, this was not the case…

My mom continued to work in SPCA and vet roles in our new town, and as had always happened before, we often ended up fostering or adopting animals that didn’t have homes. And wouldn’t you know it, it turned out that other people in Alberta had pet rats, and in some cases (such as moving into an apartment with an inquisitive landlord) they needed to re-home their rats.

In steps my Mom, of course- she can’t bear to see an animal in need- and so over the years we acquired three more rat companions. One was a lone rat who we named Sir William after the character in A Knight’s Tale. Bill, or Billiam, as I often called him, was white with black spots, and had the softest and sweetest temperament of any rat I’ve yet met. Later we also became the guardians of two sister rats named Sugar and Spice for their respective fur markings.

I’m still living in Alberta, but my family has since gotten a home back in New Brunswick- they’ve had more rats since moving back. I haven’t myself, but I’d be willing to bet that there are more pet rats in Alberta living out their quiet lives in secrecy today.

 

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Ruff Starts and Becoming Family: Tegan

As of this month, it’s been 6 years since we adopted our dog Tegan. She is my first pet outside of living with my parents, and it turns out that having your own pet (and all of the responsibilities that go along with caring for another living creature) is a lot different than being in the house while your parents take care of the pets. Who would have thought?

It has been 6 crazy years so far, and I absolutely love Tegan with all my heart- she is family. In the beginning though I didn’t know what I was doing! So, here is our story.

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My family has always had lots of pets. Growing up, my friends joked about our house being a sort of zoo. You weren’t sure when you rounded the corner in my house if you’d come face to face with a grumpy, overweight cat, an energetic Labrador retriever, or even a couple of young Fancy Rats on somebody’s shoulder. My mother worked in vet clinics and shelters, so there were always lots of animals around, including occasional foster puppies and ill or injured creatures that needed round-the-clock care.

It wasn’t until I moved out of home and in with my then-boyfriend-now-husband that I began to consider getting a dog of my own. Life felt like it was missing something vital without a dog around. I love all animals, but I’ve always had a special affinity with dogs. I pored over our local SPCA website regularly, occasionally seeing a dog that seemed like a perfect fit but who was already adopted by the time we went, or was too large to be allowed in our small apartment.

One fateful day I came across a photo on the SPCA site of a mixed breed dog named Amelia. She was referred to as a “puggle”, a beagle and pug mix. She was around a year old, and looked like she had some real personality.

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Anyone who knows me will tell you, when I get an idea in my head I can’t rest until I see it through and make a decision. She was all I could think about. I wanted to see Amelia. Dustin wasn’t sure if he wanted a small dog, but I just had to see her. So we went to the SPCA and there she was in the dog room, standing alert behind the cage door. The dogs all around were barking very loudly, but she just stood there looking up at us, expectant. The kennel attendant took her out so we could take her on a walk.

As we exited the SPCA with Amelia on a leash, it wasn’t like the movie scene I might have envisioned in my head- she didn’t shower us with love or run joyfully in circles around us. She wasn’t starved for affection or cuddles- in fact, she seemed like she didn’t really care that we were there, only that she was outside and could go for a walk. So, we walked. We took her down some of the industrial streets in the area, amused when she would hop up onto the brick and concrete ledges and trot along them.

After our walk we sat down on a bench for a few moments, and I patted her and stroked her short fur, but again she was very independent and stood alert, looking around at seemingly everything but us.

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That under-bite… ❤

Despite her aloofness, I was smitten with her. Dustin was on the fence about adopting her. However, we returned the next day to walk her again, by which point I think he realized I was serious about this dog and now that she was in my head, she wasn’t going anywhere. So, we decided that I would sign the application for adoption and see what happened. I hoped desperately that we would be able to adopt her.

When I asked for the application, the staff were very excited. That must be a good sign, I thought? I filled everything out and handed it in. The staff gave it a good look over and told me the cost of adoption for an adult dog. Then they asked if we wanted the kennel staff to go get her now, and if I would pay by cash, credit, or debit.

I looked at Dustin in surprise. Wow, this was fast. I’m going to be a dog mom!?

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“Right- right now!?” I asked, unable to hide my surprise.

The staff explained: my application was good, the kennels were overfull, and the SPCA was stretched to its limits that summer. Normally it would take more time to adopt a dog because they would be sifting through multiple applications, but right now they were desperate for space and were ready to let me take Amelia home.

“Of course! But we don’t have a leash or anything yet…” I stammered. They told us not to worry, and provided us with a few basic items to get us started. And so, that’s how I found myself pulling out my debit card and becoming a sudden dog Mom.

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We headed out to the truck with Amelia, a little stunned but full of excitement. We headed right to the grocery store- I went in and loaded up on dog blankets, treats, food, dishes, spill mats, anything and everything I could think of.

And so, we brought Amelia home, but her devil-may-care attitude had disappeared, replaced with a demeanor of perpetual confusion and concern. We tried to be really relaxed at home and let her get used to her new surroundings, but by the third day I was worried that Amelia would never feel comfortable in our small apartment- I didn’t realize how long it can take for dogs to adjust to a new home.

She was driving me crazy with her anxious habits- staring at me with bulging eyes when I was trying to read and study, army-crawling underneath the couch, vaulting herself from the couch to the bed like a hovercraft malfunctioning, whining incessantly for no apparent or discernible reason.

I thought, she’s miserable! She hates our little bachelor pad. 

But, again, all we needed was some time. It took a couple of weeks, but Amelia began to show her true colours- dorky, full of energy, and happy to nap on the couch or bed. We didn’t think “Amelia” suited her very well, so we renamed her- Tegan. (We were listening to a lot of Tegan and Sara at the time…)

As she became more comfortable with us, Tegan began to get more assertive, nipping at our fingers and eventually trying to hump us. I had no idea how to train a dog, so I did what I always do when facing a problem: explore the library!

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The books helped, as did internet forums. It wasn’t long before we had our routines and habits, and Tegan fit right into our family, wrapping her little swirly tail around my heart. I got curious one day and called the SPCA to ask if they had her background on file- I wondered, did she come from previous owners, or was she abandoned somewhere? The woman on the phone looked her up and told me that she was found wandering downtown with a couple of other dogs. Wow, I thought. I couldn’t imagine our derpy dog being a part of some doggie street gang!

Over these six years we have made lots of memories

and Tegan has made lots of derpy faces

I hope we still have lots of memories and derps to come.

Lastly, here is a little video compilation I made of Tegan, featuring clips from our earlier years together!

Response to Illinois Family Institute: Don’t Drag us into a Cesspool of Ignorance

Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute recently posted an indignant tirade because of this statement from the American Library Association:

Interested in bringing Drag Queen Storytime to your library? ALSC Committee Members received tips for optimizing success from library pioneers who have already done it.  We also had the chance to meet a Drag Queen who talked about the value of offering this program, including fostering empathy, tolerance, creativity, imagination and fun.

Their article goes on in an increasingly hysteric harangue, all the while accusing librarians and “so-called-progressives” of being the REAL hysterical ones as if they are letting us in on a secret conspiracy.

Here I will try my best to respond to some of the pearl clutching (quoted below).

This feckless ALA statement raises questions: Should we foster in children empathy for those who choose to engage in transvestism?

Yes. Foster empathy in children, period.

 Should we tolerate adults who expose children to transvestism?

Yes. Why wouldn’t you want to teach your child tolerance of people who are different? Drag Queen Storytime programs usually feature funny books, colourful expression, maybe some glitter and a song or two- nothing dangerous or indecent.

 Should we encourage children to view men who masquerade as women as “fun”?

Nobody is forcing anything on you. If you don’t like the Drag Queen storytime, it’s easy. Don’t go! Everybody wins. Those who do think it’s fun get to enjoy an empathy building, creative, imaginative, fun program. Those who don’t want to don’t have to. There.😊 It’s a lot like how rather than requesting a book be removed or moved so your child doesn’t see it, you can steer your child away from it and leave it accessible for others. It really IS that easy!

Every year, the ALA sponsors the laughably named “Banned Books Week” (this year, Sept. 23-29, 2018) during which self-righteous, dissembling librarians foment “book-banning” paranoia.

I fail to see how Banned Books Week is in any way paranoid (I like my books accessible, thanks very much)- I’d like to suggest that you brush up on what the word “paranoia” means. Your entire article about drag queen storytime REEKS of paranoia, so maybe start your research there?

The ALA pursues its hysteria-fomenting goal chiefly by ridiculing parents who, for example, don’t want their five-year-olds seeing books about children or anthropomorphized animals being raised by parents in homoerotic relationships.

When the ALA steps in to defend a book or program that has been challenged, they aren’t directing shame or ridicule at anyone- they are reacting to an action of censorship.

You, the parent, are in charge of what your kid reads. Removing or moving a title because of its contents may take that privilege away from other parents.

Libraries use Collection Development Policies (CDP’s) to determine which books they will purchase with their limited budgets. CDP’s maintain that librarians should purchase only books that have been positively reviewed by two “professionally recognized” review journals. Guess what folks, the “professionally recognized” review journals are dominated by ideological “progressives.” Publishing companies too are dominated by ideological “progressives,” so getting books published that espouse conservative ideas (particularly on the topics of homosexuality and gender dysphoria) is nigh unto impossible.

The vast majority of books published continue to focus on cisgendered, heterosexual characters and heteronormative points of view. Take a look in your public library-I bet there is no shortage of Christian fiction, conservative non-fiction, religious self-help, heteronormative relationship advice books, “traditional” family picture books, etc.

…when it comes to resources that espouse conservative views on homosexuality and gender dysphoria. Are the anti-book-banning soldiers fighting to fill the gaping lacuna in their picture books and Young Adult (YA) literature collections on these topics?

We don’t have to. Like I mentioned, the shelves are already full of conservative content. 

Books featuring inclusive and diverse content aren’t attempting an assault on conservative views; furthermore, freedom of gender identity and sexual expression are recognized by the United Nations as an important part of being free and equal in dignity and rights. 

Here are some children’s book ideas that librarians could request to fill gaps in their collections…

This entire hypothetical list provided is built on ridiculously biased ideas of what non-hetero non-cisgendered people are like- there is an ill-informed assumption that queer people are more promiscuous, prone to instability, confused, neglectful, and otherwise problematic than heterosexual, cisgendered people.

To publish something like that would be to nourish harmful notions that have no basis in reality. While conservative publications can be found in any bookstore or library, I doubt that the majority of people who consider themselves conservative would support publishing something so ignorant- it would be a hard sell.

However, if you are so passionate about these theoretical books, why don’t YOU write them and see how it goes?

The article ends with this inspiring little nugget:

The ALA is plunging deep into the “drag” cesspool, pulling children down with them.

It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck
and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.
(Luke 17:2)

Cesspool. Hung around the neck. Really beautiful hatred-inspiring message you ended with there. :/