Like crows, rats are another sometimes maligned species. They are associated with disease and filth, considered dirty, sneaky, etc. Usually they get cast as the bad guy in children’s cartoons. Although, there are exceptions (the wise martial arts rat who teaches the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for example), and rats can have different significance in different cultures. If you are born in the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac, you are supposed to be charming and attractive to people of the opposite sex, as well as thrifty, honest and a hard worker.
Athough their public image may not be as bad as it once was, rats are examples of urban wildlife that we generally don’t enjoy catching sight of. Still, I do get a kind of covert thrill when I see a rat run along the underground part of the Skytrain tracks, and I imagine a whole secret world existing under the noses and feet of all the busy business people in the city above. I have to admit, though, that I don’t get the same thrill when I hear rats scrabbling around inside the walls of my house.
When I was writing my latest novel for kids, “The Truth About Rats (and Dogs),” I fostered a rat from the SPCA shelter, so I could experience what pet rats were like and what it would be like to look after one. I found Oscar quite enjoyable and modeled the rat in my story after him. It did seem ironic, however, to be pampering a pet rat inside my house, while scheming of ways to get rid of the wild rats outside my house and in my walls. I’d be sitting at my computer in the basement writing my rat story, and a wild rat would scuttle along outside the window on his nightly rounds, as if to remind me of who the real owners of the city are.