Dumbo rats have a long and storied history. They are ancestors of the famous brown rat, which managed to oust the Black Plague-spreading black rat in from Europe. Most people aren’t completely sure how the rat first entered a household setting as a pet rather than a pest. However, there are some stories that do tell of a farmer broke the ice and invited the rat inside.
Farmers worked the land to grow crops and store food to feed their families during long, cold winters. Naturally, the local rats saw this as a fantastic opportunity to snag some easy meals for themselves and their own little families. While this certainly wasn’t an ideal relationship between humans and rats, it did certainly set the stage for a long-standing bond. Over time, people became more accepting of these rats and began to even see fit to domesticating them.
Because of the overwhelming number of rats in Europe, coupled with the stigma attached to them, people in the early 1800s began to capture and collect rats for game. They would place about a hundred rats inside a pit with a terrier dog. English people would then place their bets and a timekeeper would record how fast the dog could kill all rats in the pit.
To supply these games with ample numbers of rats, initially they were just rounded up from the public streets where they were in large supply. However, gradually the sport became more popular and people began to breed rats specifically for this purpose. It wasn’t until later on in the 1800’s that people put a stop to this cruel practice and resorted to using rats for laboratory study instead, which really wasn’t much better.
While their struggle may have been long and hard, rats at this point were finally beginning to be viewed as smart creatures with the potential to be great pets. People had been breeding rats for so long by now that they naturally started to think of them as pets.
Due to their increased popularity following their captivity in laboratories, a National Mouse Club was formed in 1895 which consisted of mouse aficionados who held shows and acknowledged the different types of mouse breeds.
Naturally, rat lovers were interested in developing something similar. A woman named Mary Douglas actually petitioned the National Mouse Club to consider adding rats to their rodent roster as well. Fortunately, the club saw fit, changed their name to the National Mouse and Rat Club and the fancy rat was made popular to all. To this day, Mary Douglas still bears the title “Mother of the fancy rat”.
After several centuries of mistreatment, bad reputations and neglect, the rat has finally fully established itself as a domestic pet. As the years go on, let’s all hope that even more people realize how wonderful these amazing pets are and the fancy rat continues to gain favor with all!