web analytics

Kung Hei Fat Choi, ratties!

jack black victorian rat catcher
Happy Chinese new year! It is the Year of the Rat, about which I shall offer no snark. For I am a rat, zodialogically speaking. It is my year. You hear that, Fate? MY YEAR. So back the hell off already.

Also, I like rats. One of our first outings together, I made Uncle B take me to a rat show.

Thinkest thou I be a-shitting of thee? Nay, ’tis not so!

Mice and rats are clean, cheerful little animals and have probably been kept as pets since forever. But this man, Jack Black, is the father of modern rodent fancy. He was Queen Victoria’s rat-catcher and he made a habit of setting aside and breeding any interesting specimens he ran across.

Beatrix Potter and Victoria herself may have been owners of Mr Black’s fine rodents.

Careful breeding of mutations in the ordinary brown rat (a coat known as agouti to fanciers) eventually resulted in dozens of well-defined variations. These are broadly classified as self (solid colors), marked (banded, hooded, siamese and the like) and other (to include varieties such as rex, which have a frizzy coat, and dumbo, which have stupid ears). Fancy mice come in all these varieties, plus tans (solid colors with tan bellies) and satins, whose coats have a beautiful, almost metallic sheen.

Mouse and rat breeding for show became a popular hobby among people with an interest in livestock but not enough room for cows. There are regular shows, with judges and ribbons and cups and grudges and all that. It’s pretty exciting, because rodent generations are so accelerated compared to other sorts of animals. A mutation can become a breed really fast.

I considered breeding fancy mice in my twenties, but nixed it on account of I am not ruthless enough. A proper mouse breeder culls any disappointing specimens as soon as their characteristics appear. Generally by crushing they little skulls.

It is a thorny one. The American Rat and Mouse Club frowns on culling, while the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association refuses to take a position.

Yes, American. What, did you think this was going to be a “those silly Brits” post? We took to the hobby like mice to peanutbutter.

I wouldn’t consider keeping a rat. They make lovely, intelligent pets, but they only live a few years — just long enough to get really attached — and they get dreadful diseases. Mice don’t live any longer and get the same diseases, but you don’t get so attached. They’re like house plants: feed and water them and they’re fun to look at. I’ve kept mice from time to time since I was a sprog.

So now you know something! Gung ho bok choi!

February 7, 2008 — 11:58 am
Comments: 54