Peach the hairless rat has a small but growing fan club in Sidney thanks to her owner Valerie Butler rarely leaving home without her naked friend. Peach catches many people off guard, but most react warmly to her sweet demeanor.
“The vast majority think she’s cute which is surprising because I always think a lot of people don’t like rodents,” Butler said. “My first rat it was the other way around. So either we’re very lucky or less of the population doesn’t like rats than I thought.”Peach brings a lot of smiles wherever she goes, often seen peeking out from under her mom’s scarf or the arm of her sweatshirt. Butler said either people are getting more used to the idea of rats as pets or they simply have better things to be upset about than seeing Peach riding on her shoulder. She takes a minute to warm up to new people, but once she does, Peach is all about spreading the love.
“They’re weirdly loyal,” Butler said. “They are really attached to their person. You’d think if they got out in your house you’d lose them. But they don’t want to be away from you.”
One of Butler’s favorite things about owning rats is how small and transportable they are.
“That and I love their tiny little hands. I love how they hold stuff.”
In total, Butler is the proud mom to four rats, two Great Danes and one Yorkie — all female. While Butler and her two “bonus kids” enjoy the tiny company, Butler’s husband has yet to dive into the rat life.
“He’s warmed up a little, but he’s not very fond of rats,” Butler said with a laugh. “We call the newest one the baby because it’ll be our last rat. I’m not sure where we would live if I came home with another one.”
The rats, named Noodles, Kiwi, Peach and Baby, live in a large four-story cage that’s almost as tall as Butler. A couple of them were saved from being snake food. Peach happened to be a gift from a friend who knew Butler owned a hairless rat years ago.
Butler’s owned various rats the last 15 years. Her longest living one was a blonde rat who was almost 5 when she had to be put down due to tumors. Typically, most live only a few years, so a 5-year-old is considered to have had a long life. Peach is currently around six to seven months old. Throughout her rodent ownership, Butler said they’ve each had their own personalities.
“They’re like weird little rat people,” she said. “There’s the shy one and the outgoing one. They’re really fun.”
Their diet is comprised mostly of nutrient packed pellets and small treats or scraps from their owner.
“Rats get fat really fast,” she said. “You have to be careful. They can’t have a lot of salt or sugar. Mine are spoiled. They generally eat part of whatever I’m eating. They’ll eat just about anything. They are pretty omnivorous.”
Pet rats are loyal, cuddly, attentive and intelligent. They’re also obsessively clean, often stopping to groom themselves after a bit of activity. Butler’s rats enjoy playing with cat toys or picking on one another like siblings. One of the bigger challenges of owning a hairless rat is keeping them warm. Butler enjoys crafting and her rats are all fully equipped with handmade hides, burrito beds and hammocks to keep cozy. She also makes her own special scarves with zipper pockets to transport Peach around during the colder months.
For the most part, Peach has been a big hit around town since Noodles, Kiwi and Baby are less social and prefer to be left at home. But for people who get to visit the Butlers, it’s generally about one thing.
“Everyone comes over and opens the rat cage and rubs rats on their faces,” Butler said. “They love it.”