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Rat lovers invade Sapperton

Lizzy O Sullivan, the president of RatsPacNW, snuggles with Dimitri. The group is hosting Ratstravaganza, the 8th annual BC pet rat show, on Saturday, Feb. 12, noon - 5 p.m., at the Sapperton Pensioners Hall. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Lizzy O Sullivan, the president of RatsPacNW, snuggles with Dimitri. The group is hosting Ratstravaganza, the 8th annual BC pet rat show, on Saturday, Feb. 12, noon - 5 p.m., at the Sapperton Pensioners Hall.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Lizzy O Sullivan was a 15-year-old eager beaver in the 1960s looking to get bonus points from her teacher when she volunteered to help clean up the lab rats at Centennial secondary in Coquitlam.

Her desire to accumulate brownie points, however, turned into a life-long love affair for the New Westminster woman and organizer of Ratstravaganza that will be held in Sapperton on Saturday. While cleaning out the cages, O Sullivan discovered the little furry rodents were just like dogs. They had real personalities and responded to people. So when school broke for holidays she thought it would be a good idea to take them home to take care of during the break.

Her mother, however, didn’t think it was such a good idea.

“She jumped up on a chair and shrieked [even though] they were in a cage,” recalls O Sullivan. “But she came to love them in time.”

She was ratless during her university days and when she started her family. But then one day her 10-year-old son brought one home because a friend couldn’t take care of it anymore. Despite his trepidation when he asked his mom if he could keep it, “I was actually quite delighted,” says O Sullivan.

Although it turned out her son was allergic to rats, O Sullivan’s love of the rodents was reborn. “Once you go rat you never go back.”

Rats make the near-perfect pet, she says, because they are easy to take of, don’t need to be walked and owners easily bond with them.

At first she’d connected with other rat people around the Lower Mainland doing animal rescue. The advent of the Internet allowed her to hook up with many more and a group of them formed RatsPacNW, and O Sullivan is president. The organization has a little circuit of six shows a year, including Ratstravaganza, around the Pacific northwest.

The eighth edition of the B.C. pet rat show will be held at the Sapperton Pensioners Hall (316 Keary St.) on Saturday (Feb. 12) from noon to 5 p.m. Last year, the event attracted about 500 people and 80 rats.

“The show is to raise the profile of rats as pets. The activities are fun for us and they are fun for people to watch,” says O Sullivan.

Along with displays and presentations, there will be plenty of contests for such thing as best costume, the “kissiest” rat, the longest tail and, of course, rat races.

One presentation will be from Hero Rats, which began as an African organization that taught Gambian pouch rats to sniff out land mines, and tuberculosis from sputum samples. The rats find land mines just as well as dogs, but they’re light enough they don’t trip them up, and they’re just as accurate at confirming TB as an expensive scientific lab.

For more information on Ratstravaganza and photos of past shows visit www.sithrattery.com/Ratstravaganza_2011.

ggranger@newwestnewsleader.com

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