Once feared as child-killers and plague vectors, rats have developed a terrible reputation through the years. Running wild in the 19th century, rats created the necessity for rat catchers, paid professionals who were employed to capture and kill rats. It is here, in the tale of the rat-catcher, that the Brothers Grimm found inspiration for their sad and grizzly story The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Oddly enough, however, this may very well be the same way that we came to domesticate some rats and, with time, develop what is now known as the fancy rat.
It is rather obvious that the rat catchers earned their keep by trapping and getting rid of rats, but many also enjoyed making money on the side, by gambling on rat fights or by staging exhibitions, where people paid to see their unusual rats. Appointed by Queen Victoria, the rat-catcher known as Jack Black was said to be one such man. Keeping the rats which struck his fancy, he would then breed them and sell the offspring to wealthy young women, to keep as pets. Beatrix Potter, the popular childrens’ author, was believed to have been one of Jack Black?s customers, and it is said that even the queen, herself, had a pet rat or two.
Fancy rats continue to gain popularity, all over the world. Known for their friendly dispositions, their cleanliness and their intelligence, they have proven themselves to be anything but what was told in those dark and gruesome tales of old. Capable of learning tricks, answering to their own name, and being litter box trained, rats make ideal pets. Few people that have taken the time to get to know a rat are able to resist their cute and inquisitive little faces for long.