FRED, THE RAT WHISPERER
“Greetings,” I started.
“Did you know it’s the year of the snake?”
“It’s the Chinese year of the snake.”
“Oh,” I said, wondering what the relevance was and thinking about a former Laurel Mountain Borough (PA) resident, Steve Harwig, who won local fame for his snake hunting.
Fred was off on a tangent.
“You know, in China dragons are good things. In our culture dragons are something to slay.”
Hmmm…perhaps Fred is a dragon and I can slay him.
Back to the snakes…and rats.
I wasn’t deterred. After all, in the sixties I had worked in research at Roswell Park Memorial Institute, a well-known hospital and cancer research institute. I’d also worked in a research lab at the State University of New York. Both were in Buffalo, New York.
Part of each job was working with mice for research, including raising them, sorting them by sex, and injecting them with something I cannot remember.
He told me he took about a hundred rats per month to the pet store to be used as snake treats.
“How much did you sell them for?”
“About a dollar each. I calculated it to be $3.00 per pound,” he said. “Remember, that was fifteen to twenty years ago.”
Fred said it took about two months for the rats to go from conception to market.
“When I took them to market they were young rats, adolescents, eating on their own. They were three times the size of a mouse.”
He continued: a mouse is a small rat. A squirrel is a huge rat with a big fur tail. A gerbil is a smaller rat with a fuzzy tail. A hamster is a rate with no tail and a nasty disposition. I never liked hamsters.”
Fred uses rats in his clown gigs. He teaches them to walk across a tight rope. He had one with him as he spoke to me.
”They need training,” he said, “but it is a natural thing they do.”
In order to train a rat “you have to understand their minds, the way a dog trainer must understand the dog’s mind—if there’s such a thing. There isn’t a whole lot to understand about a rat’s mind.”
The trick, he said, is to find the right rat. When seeking a rat to purchase he carefully touches different rats.
“If I can handle it then I work on getting it comfortable enough to eat out of my hand. Then I put the rat on a rope and hope it walks. Rats naturally walk off the rope.”
At this point I mentioned to him that I was taking notes because I was going to write a post on this conversation.
“Call me Fred the Rat Whisperer,” he said.
When he acquires a rat he doesn’t care what color it is. His current one is dark black, but he’s had white, tan, gray, two-toned, and other colors.
“I used to think one color was preferred,” he said, noting that “Disney did a lot to improve the public relations of the rat population. They got a bad rep in the middle ages due to the bubonic plague.”
He thinks that reputation is undeserved.
“Rats are clean animals as long as they have wood chips under them. They clean themselves like a cat does. But you can’t housebreak them.
I reached over to pet Little Dog, our pet cat. She was curled up on a chair next to mine, keeping me company. As I petted her she began licking my fingers.
“If you understand the rat—there’s subtle things that are hard to explain unless you’ve handled a lot of animals. For example, a cow handler names the cows and knows their personalities.”
Fred can’t stand horses, because his dad didn’t like them.
Once, during a break at a farm-type gig, a horse-owner brought a humongous draft horse over to him.
“It looked into my eyes and knew I was scared of him.”
At this point Fred was called away from the phone, which was okay. Enough was said.
For Fred, I looked up the following:
Being born a Rat is nothing to be ashamed of. In China, the Rat is respected and considered a courageous, enterprising person. It is deemed an honor to be born in the Year of the Rat and it is considered a privilege to be associated with a Rat. Rats know exactly where to find solutions and can take care of themselves and others without problems. They use their instinctive sense of observation to help others in times of need and are among the most fit of all the Animal signs to survive most any situation.
Years of the Rat
First in the cycle, Rat Years begin the sequence and recur every twelfth year. The Chinese New Year does not fall on a specific date, so it is essential to check the calendar to find the exact date on which each Rat year actually begins.
The Sign of the Rat
Being born under this sign determines many talents, as well as other characteristics that may not be so commendable. Rats are very lively and need a lot of mental and physical stimulation. They can be calm and perceptive, but sometimes their brains can cause a mental restlessness, tempting them to take on too much, only to discover they are unable to meet their commitments. Rats are blessed with one of the best intellects going. Add to their intelligence a curiosity and a bright imagination, and they seem as sharp as a needle.*
YEARS AND THE FIVE ELEMENTS
Persons born within these date ranges can be said to have been born in the “year of the Rat,” while also bearing the following elemental sign
12 February 1888 – 30 January 1889: Earth Rat
31 January 1900 – 18 February 1901: Metal Rat
10 February 1912 – 5 February 1913: Water Rat
5 February 1924 – 24 January 1925: Wood Rat
24 January 1936 – 10 February 1937: Fire Rat
10 February 1948 – 28 January 1949: Earth Rat
28 January 1960 – 14 February 1961: Metal Rat
15 February 1972 – 2 February 1973: Water Rat
2 February 1984 – 19 February 1985: Wood Rat
18 February 1996 – 6 February 1997: Fire Rat
7 February 2008 – 25 January 2009: Earth Rat
24 January 2020 – 11 February 2021: Metal Rat**
Everyone reading this can now go out and slay a dragon. Or acquire a pet rat. Whichever.
Can Non-Human Creatures Talk the Human Language?