Wednesday, June 04, 2008


...the newest members of our household: Our pet rats, Falafel and Tabouli.

After dogsitting for Paige's parents' dogs for a week, I started to crave a small furry being of my own. Cats were out in that I'm allergic and the last cat I owned was a bloodthirsty psycho hosebeast. Dogs are out because they aren't allowed in my building. And even if they were, it would be cruel to have a dog in an apartment so small.

So that pretty much left rodents. We eventually narrowed it down to either a guinea pig or two rats. We went to our humane society "just to look" and came home with two 8-week-old female hooded rats. Luckily, Kelsey had already given us her rat cage, rightfully sensing that we were probably going to get a rodent or two sooner than later. The girls were born into a foster home as part of an unexpected/unwanted litter and had been at the humane society for a month, so they are sisters. They were already living in a cage together and seemed to get along because they were taking a nap together under a tube when we arrived. They'd been named Doc and Snow White, but we knew we wouldn't keep those names. The one we now know as Tabouli is the one that sold us on the pair. She was curious, willing to come out of the cage and didn't bite. Falafel was a bit more skittish and nibbled on our fingertips a bit. But we knew we wanted to get two because rats are very social animals and figured we might as well get two that seemed to get along well.

Turns out first impressions may not last. Falafel is the dominant one and more outgoing. Tabouli tends to follow Falafel around, even thought Falafel sometimes pees on her and steals her treats. Occasionally, Tabouli does get fed up with Falafel bullying behavior and we catch her sitting on Falafel's head. Falafel more readily comes out of the cage for playtime. Tabouli is harder to get out of the cage and is more likely to try to hide in your shirt, sleeve or hood. Tabouli can be bold though, as she has the surprising habit of leaping between Pfunk and me when we are holding her. Falafel's initial skittishness at the shelter may not have had so much to do with her personality, as the fact that the rodents were housed in the same room as cats that were available for adoption. Which just seemed cruel to both parties involved. The rodents are constantly afraid of becoming lunch and the cats are constantly tormented by the tempting rodents over yonder. I'd say that was my only complaint about the humane society. Overall, our experience at the humane society was positive. They'd already been examined by a vet once in the shelter and we got a free visit with a shelter-recommended vet (provided we go within 14 days of the adoption, which we did).

We came up with the names on the way home. I told Pfunk about a short story I heard on This American Life about hamsters named Donut and Danish. I thought they were cute names, but didn't necessarily want to copy them. So we tried thinking up other cute food names that go together. I eventually blurted out "Falafel and Tahini." Pfunk suggested Tabouli instead of Tahini and we had our names before the car was even home from the shelter. The names have been a big hit, even with those that aren't too keen on the idea of rats. In fact, most people seem to find rats a questionable choice when we tell them about the adoption. My mom, Pfunk's mom and my sister all shudder at the sight of their "wormy" or "snake-like" tails. My friend Meghan that lives in Brooklyn said, "Maybe it is a New York thing, but I can't imagine wanting rats in my apartment." So we've been doing a lot of educating people on the differences between city/sewer rats and domesticated rats. Domesticated rats are smart, clean and smaller than feral rats. They groom themselves all the time, especially after us dirty human beings have held them. They can learn their names and to come when called and can be litter boxed trained.

Not everyone has winced at the rats. Kelsey is a big rat fan as is Pfunk's sister. I introduced the rats to my 2 year old nephew over webcam. He was very interested in the girls. My parents told me later that time I had the rats on the screen was the longest he'd sat still all day. A lot of people ask how we tell them apart. The main way we tell them apart is Falafel has a big blobbly spot on her back. Tabouli's spots on her back are smaller. They are both hooded rats, but Falafel has a "traditional" hoodie while Tabouli has a "zip-up" hoodie (she has a small white stripe running from her chin down her neck - her zipper). Tabouli also has a small spot on her belly that Falafel doesn't have.

We've already had some adventures. I'm far too trusting of the rats, resulting in one of them getting loose in the apartment on three different occasions. The first time it was Tabouli. She was freaked; I was freaked. It took me an hour to get her back in the cage and required moving most of the furniture in the living room. We also took them to the vet, where one side of the waiting room was labeled "cats," the other "dogs." I wondered aloud where the rat section was. We ended up in dogs, since cats seem the more natural enemy of rats. They were a big hit at the vet, I think simply because they see so few rodents in comparison to felines and canines. They were given a clean bill of health and Falafel only pooped on the Dr twice. Our most recent adventure was giving them baths. We staged a major invention last week. We completely remodeled the set up of their cage because we were having some odor issues. The last step of the intervention was baths. We washed them with baby shampoo in a bowl of lukewarm water. The bowl was in the bathtub, as was Pfunk, bless her heart. By the time we were done, she was completely soaked!

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