THEY are the scourge of modern cities – but now the humble rat has its sights set on replacing man’s best friend.
And while rats might have a long way to go to become the nation’s favourite pets, their increasing popularity has led to the creation of a rodent version of Crufts.
The Scottish Rat Club holds five shows a year at venues across the country, with the next taking place in St Mary’s Church Hall, Bathgate, on Saturday, April 27.
Owners are attracted to the animals “cuddleability” and “cuteness” and shows include rats competing for best in breed, agility and most curious rat categories.
Rats can be shown in either the pet classes or varieties, which must conform to the standards of excellence set by the National Fancy Rat Society. Each rodent is then judged for type, colour, markings and coat type.
Rats entered in the pet classes are judged on qualities such as friendliness, condition and health. Pets can also be entered in the most curious rat competition in which ten items such as toys, matchboxes and flowers are laid out, with the winner being whichever rat investigates each item in the shortest time.
Scottish Rat Club chair Nick Mays said: “More and more people are keeping rats as pets. It’s not a new thing, people first began keeping them as pets in Victorian times. They are low-maintenance, reasonably inexpensive, and they don’t need walking. They also have bags of personality to boot.”
One keen member of the club is mum-of-two Shelley Bruce, from Murrayfield, who is the proud owner of four rats.
The community nurse travels all over showing off her prized pets – hooded dumbo Katie; British blue Skye and Berkshires Moses and Solomon.
She said: “They’re actually very affectionate and love kisses and cuddles. People would be so surprised by them. Rats are very intelligent and are actually quite shy, I’ve never had a bite from any of my rats.”
Shelley began keeping rats after being persuaded to purchase one seven years ago by her daughter, Jess, 19.
She said: “At first I was not keen on bringing rats into the house but eventually the novelty wore off for Jess and so I began taking care of them, that’s when I fell in love with them.
“They’re very clever. I’ve taught them to respond to their names and come for kisses.”
On average, rats can produce litters of up to eight “pups”, an incredible seven times a year, and prospective pet owners are therefore advised to purchase either same-sex pairings or keep them apart.
Shelly does so with a twin chamber Royal Rat cage bought for her as a Valentine’s present by her husband, Stephen, 42.
She said: “Katie and Skye stay in the top chamber and the two boys on the bottom, if I didn’t keep them apart I could end up with quite a lot more rats.”
A sting in the tails
THERE have been a number of famous rats over the years, the most noted of these being kids favourite Roland Rat who was a regular on TV screens in the 80s.
Others rats include The Boomtown Rats fronted by Bob Geldof. The group were named after a gang of children Geldof had read about in Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory.
The most famous rat in recent years is Mafia informer Henry Hill whose tale inspired the classic film Goodfellas.
Loyalist leader Billy Wright earned the nickname King Rat after being jokingly called it by Mid-Ulster UDA commander Robert John Kerr.
The name became popular with the media and, in response, Wright had the Sunday World newspaper’s offices bombed and issued a death threat to staff.