Despite regular requests for a cat or a dog from my daughter, we managed to remain pet-free until she recently turned six. I’m not sure how my “no pets” policy was circumvented, but in the span of about two weeks, we went from no pets to owning a rat, two tadpoles (now on their way to morphing into frogs), and one caterpillar. Granted, I’m not too concerned about the caterpillar as I suspect it will return to the wild shortly, but tadpoles/frogs and a rat take some maintenance and time to care for them, especially the rat.
Okay, right now you are probably having one of two reactions thinking about a rat as a pet. From my discussions with people they either say, “Cool, we had a rat when I was a kid and they are so smart and fun,” or you are thinking, “Ahhh, a rat!” That second reaction can usually be traced to the tail. I’ve had several friends tell me that rats creep them out because of the tail. It simply gives them the willies. Perhaps it reminds them of a snake and their reaction to snakes is, “Ahhh, a snake!”
Fortunately, we fall in the cool camp. Ratina, so dubbed by our daughter, has quickly become part of the family and, despite the usual assurances that the child would look after said rat, most of that duty has fallen to me (the ayis in our household definitely fall into the Ahhh! camp).
Acquiring a pet in Beijing can be rather simple, and even free. We got ours from a family that was leaving Beijing and had to give up their beloved one-year old rat with cage and all. If you check discussion groups like Beijing Café, Beijing Mamas or the Beijing Kids Forum, people are often looking for caring homes for their pets when they must leave Beijing. Otherwise, you can go to a local pet shop or to the pet market, but be warned, many vendors do not treat or raise their pets ethically or safely. We had one friend who bought a little puppy from a vendor and it had already contracted a disease. She was heart broken as her puppy quickly succumbed to the ailment and died.
No matter where you get your pet(s), it is a good idea to get them checked out by a veterinarian, especially one with experience with your type of animal; experience with cats and dogs does not mean they know much about rats, snakes, or birds. Fortunately for us, the International Center for Veterinary Services recently relocated just a few blocks from our home here in Wangjing and the Vet is from New York, so there is no need to learn special vocabulary words in Chinese related to pet issues. I look forward to taking my daughter there to get Ratina checked out soon. Who knows, maybe we can even find Ratina another rat to play with, but only once we are certain they are both females. Otherwise, I might have to open a pet store.
For more about adopting pets in Beijing, check out the following blog post titled Adopting Pets in Beijing: What Every Pet Owner Should Consider. For general info on how to raise a pet before you buy one, a simple web search of sites like www.ehow.com, or www.wikihow.com will give you step by step instructions on everything you need to know from selection, habitat, feed, play, and more. For specifics on rats, check out www.ratcare.org; proof positive that there is a website for everything, at least when it comes to rats.
photo by chris lay