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  • Writer's pictureReyna Bradford

Joining the Rat Race (written 10/17/20)

With the door indefinitely closed on obedience matches and trials for the near future, I'm exploring a few new sports to keep the dogs and me busy at home. Tassie and I are back to tracking, of course. Plus, she and I, along with Banner and Scotch, are getting more serious about tricks training, another very fun sport in which dogs can earn titles.

That's enough to keep all of us occupied for most of the week. But there is one more sport that I just couldn't resist getting involved with.

It's called barn hunt.

Barn hunt is a relatively new canine activity with the AKC. It's designed to recreate the purpose of terrier-type breeds, originally bred to search through barns and farms and locate and dispatch any unwelcome vermin. Nowadays, as a sport it's open to all breeds. The barn has been replaced by a fenced arena and scattered bales of hay. The "vermin" have been replaced by pet rats, brought in specially, and secured in tubes made of PVC pipe with screw-on, mesh ends so the rats can breathe, see, and interact with the dogs.

Before a dog enters the barn hunt arena, each rat in its special tube is hidden somewhere among the bales and loose hay. The handler doesn't know where they are or how many there are. So it's up to the dog to search the area and indicate when a rat has been found.

My four youngest dogs -- Cinder, Tassie, Banner, and Scotch -- are all very likely candidates to train for barn hunt competition. In fact, I really don't think much training will be required. All of them are naturally curious about and fascinated by small, furry animals. I have a big, fenced, arena area up at the top of our hill. I have plenty of hay bales. So the bottom line is, I have the dogs, I have the location, I have the hay. The only thing missing? The rats.

And that's how Whiskey and Cabby (their names continuing the wine and liquor theme of 2020) joined the family. They came home with me just this evening. Two white, male, Dumbo rats, adopted through the rescue program at Petco. Yes, I did say rats. Pet rats. In a cage, and yes, in my house.

This idea has taken some getting used to for my mom and dad, who were our transportation system and also helped to put the cage together. For my own part, I've heard for years that rats make excellent pets. They're sociable, they're smart, and they're just the right size to comfortably fit in your hands. Now I get to test out the theory. A brand-new sport to try and a brand-new pet to try it with.

For their part, the dogs, particularly Cinder and Tassie, have already made friends with the two newcomers. It's a win-win situation so far.

Let's see where it takes us, rats and all.

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