Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rat-A-Rama brings ardent rodent lovers to Boise

The sixth annual Rat-A-Rama was an event on a mission: To dispell unflattering myths about the frequently benighted creatures. 
RatsPacNW, a rat fanciers club with around 300 members across the Pacific Northwest and Canada, hosted the "fancy rat show and educational fair" at the Idaho Humane Society on Saturday. 
According to rat lovers like Lynn Rosscamp, a certified show rat judge who came all the way from Seattle for Rat-A-Rama, rats have personalities that combine the best of cats — independence — with the best of dogs — loyalty and a pack mentality. She fell in love with rats years ago, after her boyfriend adopted a retired rat from a science lab. She found him "charming," which went for the boyfriend, too. She married him, and got more rats. 
"Once you go rat, you'll never go back," Rosscamp said. 
She had a good day Saturday. Mitsu, her newly-adopted "Russian Blue Wheaton Burmese," a rat undeniably pretty as rats go, with a soft grey coat that looked like a sweater you would definitely want to wear, took the Best of Show prize in the "solid color kitten" category. Yes, rats younger than 14 weeks are known as kittens. 
The ideal time to show a rat is when it's between four and nine months old. That's a rat's "prime beauty time," Rosscamp explained. "After a year, you get that middle-aged spread." 
Michelle Carroll, a Rat-A-Rama organizer, raises rats in Boise and cares for abandoned pet rats or "rat rescues." Her favorite rat variety is the "hairless" — which looks a little like Yoda from "Star Wars" wearing a loose, pink suit. The sight of these animals, flopped in one of the rat hammocks Carroll designs and sells, could likely melt the stoniest heart of a rat-hater. The movie, "Ratatouille," featuring animated chef rats, helped the image of rats, too, Carroll said. But it also had an effect similar to the release of "101 Dalmatians" when people adopted puppies too hastily without considering the work that goes into owning a pet who is not animated. 
"We had a lot more rat rescues after that movie," Carroll said. 
For Robbi Schaecher of Tacoma, rescue worked in the other direction. 
Caring for her pet rats helped her recover from an eating disorder, she said. Being around them calmed her, and she liked coming home to find them waiting for her in their cage. In addition to Aaron, a squishy, handbag-sized rat who perched on her shoulder, and Joanna, a sleek rat who won a satin ribbon in the "marked kitten" category, Schaecher has made a lot of human friends through her interest. 
She drove  to Boise with fellow rat enthusiasts, a score of competition rats and several rescued rats available for adoption. 
The night before the big show, she and the others formed an assembly line at Michelle Carroll's house. One person washed the rats in the sink with baby shampoo, another person dried them, and someone else clipped their toenails. 
From the looks of the scratches on her neck and shoulders, Schaecher appeared to have gotten toenail duty quite a few times. 
"They're my battle scars," she said.