Rats I Would Have Liked to Know

Boys’ Life

boy rats are couch potatoes

The books say that boy rats are quiet homebodies and couch potatoes compared to girls. Who am I to disagree?

The summer before I painted this picture there was a litter of young rats up for adoption at the Humane Society, where I was then a volunteer. By the time I named them, there were three boys and three girls left. So the girls became Patty, Maxene and Laverne (their white sister had already been adopted and named Bubbles), and the boys were Groucho, Chico and Harpo. One by one they went their separate ways, until only Harpo was left. By that time he was a grownup PEW, not especially eye-catching, so in the end I had to take him home.

At first he lived in a cage by himself while waiting for his neutering to “take”. My two youngest girls were all over the cage lid, cooing “Hellooo big boy.” When he finally got to mingle, well, he just couldn’t remember why he had been so anxious to get out and meet the girls.

How Many Rats...?

rats filling an igloo from top top bottom

Question: How many rats can fit inside a two-rat igloo?

Answer: All of them.

The same goes for mice and phone booths.

High-Rise Housing

multi-story rat cage

Before I moved the family to their big new cage, this is how I pictured them settling in.

They do use the whole thing, up and down through all five levels. The part I hadn’t predicted was that they would all curl up to sleep on the topmost level, right under the roof. Who knows? Maybe my gang are all descended from attic rats.

Oh, yes. The most rats I’ve ever had at once is seven.

Are You Sure This Is 18 by 24?

wall with windows

Technically this picture is Multimedia.

Q: How did I get the rope holding up the scaffolding to look so realistic?

A: By using real string, with careful reinforcements on the back of the paper. It looks even better at full size, behind glass.

It’s brand-new string, in case anyone cares. My half-used ball of twine cleverly hid. Matter of fact, I still haven’t found it, though I’m sure I never finished it. Wandering around hardware stores can be perilous. So many things you never imagined you needed. Fortunately I did not have to search long. I ran smack dab into the studio director’s gentleman friend, who had only recently bought a ball of string for her grandson. This is really true.

And the paper really is 18 by 24.

Pantry Raid

the rats raid the pantry

If ever a picture needed no explanation...

One Piece at a Time

the rats stealing a doughnut piece by piece

All the rats in this picture are mine, but it went so well with “Pantry Raid” and “Thanksgiving,” I had to keep them together.

To really appreciate the title, you have to know the Johnny Cash song about the man who worked in a car factory and set out to build his own car by smuggling out One Piece at a Time. From top to bottom, the rats in the picture are Franny, baby Booboo (officially Beatrice), Harpo, Miranda, Zuzu (officially Isabelle) and Winnie. This dates the painting to April or May of 2003: Winnie died about two months after I got Booboo.


another reason to give thanks

This picture made a natural trio with Pantry Raid and One Piece at a Time. Just take a moment to savor the aromas before getting to work on the meal.


lift our hands in praise

At the risk of being bumped over to Cinematic Rats, let’s paraphrase.

Q: What are you praising?

A: What have you got?

Strength in Numbers

large rat made up of smaller rats

I didn’t make this up. The original is a T-shirt that looks something like this

big fish chasing a smaller fish

followed by

many small fish chasing one big fish

Same idea.

Mr. Jingles

another very, very large rat

I never met Mr. Jingles in person, though I saw plenty of photographs. Unlike his namesake, he weighed a whopping three pounds; in some pictures he looked for all the world like a guinea pig. He belonged to a charming woman whom I knew only as Sugarsrats, at one time a very active RMCA member.


a large rat with his nine sons

Like Mr. Jingles, Goliath was a rat many people would have liked to know. He was the father of a large litter, including nine sons. Their mother died when the babies were only a few weeks old. Goliath immediately stepped in and became a wonderful father to his sons. All nine of them.

Just Relax ...

rat on the couch of a psychiatric snake

Idle query: How long did it take the psychiatric profession to figure out that lying back on a leather couch in an unfamiliar location in the presence of a near-stranger would not make the average person feel comfortable, at ease and ready to spill their guts? How much confidence should one place in the character assessments of a person who couldn’t work this out on their own?

New Kid on the Block

the girls gather round the Critter Keeper

Well, it’s always interesting when a newcomer moves in, isn’t it?

Winnie was kept physically separate from Miranda at first, because Miranda had grown to adulthood as an only rat and would probably have killed Winnie if I’d simply tossed them into a cage together. But it only took a week for them to become good friends. Winnie even introduced Miranda to the pleasures of the sleeping hammock, which Miranda had been boycotting on principle. (I put up the hammock to replace the fleece-lined jacket that Miranda had adopted— and was rapidly rendering unwearable.)

Heart to Heart

kissing rats shaped like a heart

Do those little hearts in the background look familiar? They should: they’re stickers made to look like “Sweethearts”. You may not know the name, but you see them every year around Valentine’s day. They’re the candies with little embossed sayings to camouflage the fact that they taste like cardboard.