Soft fur, sensitive nose, wagging tail and propensity to snuggle. Curious, loyal and always ready to nibble and scratch their heads, they will sometimes lick your hand in greeting. It’s a dog, right? For Richelle Kelly of Ridgefield, that describes her seven rats: Larry, Curly, Shemp, Basil, Wally, Bill and Ted.
These fascinating rodents have a bad reputation, but their behavior is more closely tied to human psychology than dogs, Kelly said, and that’s why many scientists use them as study subjects. They’re easy to love because they’re so easy to understand, Kelly said. Maybe that’s why, even though she loves all of her rats, she especially loves Larry, her “heart rat”.
“A ‘heart rat’ is a rat that you bond with,” Kelly said. “I’m not really a spiritual person but it’s almost on a spiritual level. I really connect with him. He and I understand each other.
You might think Kelly is an exception when it comes to her seedy relationships, but she’s part of a worldwide community of rat-enthusiasts online. There’s a whole world of mustachioed social media darlings with handles like Ice Cube the Rescue Rat, Sesame the Rat, the Ratso Boyz, Philly Ratty Mischief, and Spoiled Rat. Hashtags like #ratsarepetstoo, #ratsofinstagram and #ratcommunity are popping up everywhere. Kelly’s Rats – who can be found online @theratstooges – have 11,000 followers on Instagram and 229,000 on TikTok. A wall in Kelly’s home office is given over to displaying the myriad of rat-themed items donated to her by dedicated fans, ranging from original art to figurines to sewn-in plush rats. the hand.
Kelly had her first rat, Shadow, when she was 5 years old. It was a gift from her grandmother, who intended to buy her a hamster, but the pet store owner persuaded her that a rat would make a better pet. Kelly has owned rats on and off since, but came to the internet rat party relatively recently, in 2020, when she was looking for a pet to keep her company during the early months of the pandemic.