FARMINGTON – They’re small and wiggly but like to give kisses, that is if a person can overcome their squeamishness about holding rats.
The pair of rats, along with Franklin County Animal Shelter’s mascot, a large St. Bernard named Taurus, make up an educational triad, said shelter technician Jessie Geis who not only brings the three into classrooms but has given them a home.
“It’s not a large home but it’s full of love,” she said of the one dog, seven cats and now two rats that share it with her.
The male rats, Julian and Bubbles, who has a white belly, were given to the animal shelter, and volunteer foster parents housed them until they moved to Florida a couple months ago when Geis took them on.
Lapping their little tongues across her arm, they like to give kisses just like cats and dogs. They groom each other but save the kisses for people, she said as one tries to plant a kiss near her mouth.
“Rats are very social and intelligent. They need times of interaction, like dogs, or they can turn aggressive,” she said. Geis allows the rats free roam time around her home where the dog and cats are curious about them but leave them alone. She also spends time playing games with them.
The average-sized rats, about a year and a half old, feed on rodent pellets. Although they can eat people-food they shouldn’t have chocolate or too many carbs, she said.
Serving as pet educator in the shelter’s education outreach program is a little daunting at first for one who doesn’t like public speaking, but Geis does like seeing the kids respond to the animals. She also brings a little chocolate along to pass out when shyness hits, she said.
The threesome have already been taken to a couple schools where she’s found students’ reaction to the rats to be just a little “standoffish at first but then one brave one comes near,” and then they all do, she said.
“The kids get a kick out of the little brown nuggets dropped by the rats,” she said. They are capable of being litter box trained and she’s working on it.
Geis is also trying to get a saddle for them to ride on the large St. Bernard’s back. The friendly mascot has been at the shelter for almost a year.
Unlike cats and dogs who can cause allergic reactions for some students, the rats are good for classrooms where she has discussed topics such as jobs in the animal field and pet responsibility. The Phillips school was working on a program on animal cruelty and helping to prevent it, she said. The topics she addresses depend on what the school wants to hear about. She is open to visiting other local schools, she said.