Three Legged Rats

About two months ago… my wife and I caved.

Our son – who is six and a half years old now – had been asking for months and months to get a pet of his own. At first, we just would change the subject… then we tried the tactic of “maybe when you get older”… but he was persistently pursuing his quest to be a pet owner. We decided that we would try a new approach and told him that if he saved up his allowance ($3 a week) that he could get a small pet… Honestly, we never believed he would save his money for this… The kid is a total Lego addict and I was convinced that he would be 3 weeks in and go blow whatever money he had on a small set of those amazingly expensive plastic bricks. He didn’t though. He ha d a goal and would not be swayed. Even trips to Target to walk down the Lego aisle did nothing. He would look at them and see if he could charm us into buying something – but he wouldn’t part with his “pet” money.

Seeing he was serious – I began to realize that we might indeed end up with a hamster or mouse or lizard – or to the possible insanity of my wife, a snake! The more I read from my Google inquiries as to “Best Small Pet For Children” – which will give you about 263 million results in .24 seconds – the more I began to see a recurring suggestion… Get the kid a … rat.

Now I will tell you that mentioning rat to my wife got a similar reaction to the mention of snake. She was not a fan of the idea. But every website I investigated said that rats are the most intelligent, the most social and the least likely to bite… They are also – surprising to me – very neat and clean. They can even be trained to use a litter box! (Which by the way, we have done… it is amazing!) After more investigation and trips to the library to read up on rats – we decided that if he saved the money that is what he could get. And he did. So … he did. He got 2 of them actually – because according to Google’s best responses… rats get lonely. We just made sure to get 2 girls – for reasons that my son doesn’t yet understand but probably you do…

1 of his 2 rats (her name is Badger) is exactly as you may picture in your nightmares. She has a long hairless tail… beady little eyes and 4 feet that end in sharp little claws… perfect for climbing and getting entangled in your hair as you sleep… the frequent early vision and fear of my wife. But 1 of the little vermin… err pet rats – is quite different. The other rat is named Nubbins… Nubbins is so named because she has 3 legs and just a little stump of a tail.

When we went to the pet store to get said vermin… err pet rats… the lady told us that this particular little rat would end up as a “feeder” for someone’s pet snake… My son heard this comment and immediately said “NO! She won’t! I want her!” I’ll tell you it’s a strange feeling to be standing in a pet store in front of tanks full of vermin… err pet rats… and feel yourself begin to cry. Pull it together was the voice in my head’s fervent call… you break down crying and hugging your son in front of the rat cages in a pet store and somebody will call for the guys in white coats to come and take you away. But I was holding tears back because I could see that my son was moved in compassion for this most unlikely little recipient of anyone’s love… I pulled it together and after much discussion – we left with 2 pet rats… 4 beady eyes, 7 legs and 1.5 tails…and 1 happy 6.5 year old… and 1 choked up dad.

So now 2 months later – we are one of the weirdo families that intentionally live in house inhabited by vermin… err pet rats. And our family all really like the little guys… our 4 year old daughter would have them sleeping in her bed if we would allow it… even our doq Queenie likes them and will let them climb on her… the picture shows Nubbins sitting on our ferocious pit’s neck… if I am truthful about it… I love the little guys too… mainly because my son loves them. But they do have their own little personalities – and they love for you to hold them and give them treats… and they have yet to get entangled in my wife’s hair as she sleeps and I think she loves them too… And Nubbins is very special to all of us. Yes because she is a very cute, sweet little rat… but also because she is a daily reminder to me of the preciousness of my son’s heart. He chose her because his little heart cared that she needed a chance… that she was the least of all of her little brother and sister rats and recognized that she needed him… and that means a whole lot.

I hope that his heart never changes… I pray that I remember every day to nurture that part of him… to encourage it… to fan the flame that grows there to love the unloved… to care for widows and orphans in need… to see it expand and always be the champion for those who are in need and fight for the ones who cannot fight for themselves. I pray that I remember every day to live by the example that my 6.5 year old son set for me the day he chose a 3 legged rat and renewed my heart…

Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.

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