Louisville Magazine

DEC 2018

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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seniorstar.com/parklouisville.com 28 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 12.18 I survived a rat infes- tation once. It was a few years back, while renting an old shotgun house in Germantown that had settled crooked with age, cracks like spider veins and gashes in the foundation di- recting creatures toward a warm place to win- ter. It probably didn't help that the home sat two blocks from the rodent wonderland that is a city dump. Rats burrowed in my stove, pooped and pissed recklessly and abundantly, ate my dog's food. One drowned in my toilet. It is with this history that I have formed my opinion about rodents. Which is simple: Die. On a recent Saturday morning, I'm at an autumn festival, watching children teeter on tiptoes to stroke a pu• of fur belonging to a rodent with damn good PR —-the gerbil. I spot a business card reading: "River City Rodents. Saving one rodent at time." God, why? One afternoon, I call. Tom Flaherty — who currently shelters 130 "critters" but at one time cared for 400 (FOUR HUN- DRED!) rodents in his Je•ersontown home THE BIT WHY LOUISVILLE? — answers. He tells me it's just him and his wife Michelle who run the rescue. Both in their mid-40s, with two grown kids, this whole project started several years ago with a love story. "I went to PetSmart and got a Chinese dwarf hamster. She was awesome. She was my little girl. She'd hang out in my shirt pockets at night and I'd feed her din- ner," Tom says. "She liked ham and turkey. On ˜anksgiving day she had her own little plate, stu™ng and all." Soon, the Flahertys "moved up" to ger- bils, Michelle gifting Tom four of them on Father's Day. ˜e couple became members of the American Gerbil Society. Eventually, he says, "My wife decided she wanted pet rats. I thought, 'Oh, gross. ˜ose are nasty,'" and I nod along. "But they're nice. ˜ey're like little dogs." No, Tom! Look at the River City Rodents' YouTube channel, though, and you'll see a brown rat named Curly wagging his long, hairless (horri- fying?) tail. Other videos include a rat slurping spaghetti and a biscuit-hued rat named Honey, using pink claws that seem eerily humanlike to clutch an Oreo and take a thousand busy nibbles. A mama rat nurses squirmy wads of bubble gum that I assume are her newborns. ˜ere's a whole corner of YouTube devoted to rats performing tricks — shaking hands, jumping through hoops, rolling over. ˜e Flahertys' £rst rat came from Craigs- list. ˜ey named him the Dude. "Rats have been domesticated as pets for 800 years," Tom assures me, before explaining the di•erence between wild and domesticated rats. ˜e wild ones have black skin and won't engage with humans. ˜ey are nuisances — vermin. Do- mesticated rats are pink-skinned and cuddly. Tom swears it's true. ˜e Flahertys have one wild rat. It came to them as one of several babies rescued from a dumpster. "My wife syringe-fed them every two hours, took them to work," he says, adding that only a female named Wile E. survived. "She doesn't bite. She just isn't as cuddly as some of the other ones." ˜ey once rescued 12 gerbils from a hoarding situation in Pennsylvania and eight hamsters from the Woodford County Humane Society, between Frankfort and Lexington. Several rescued degus (rodents that look like a cross between a squirrel and rat) also lodge in the Flaherty home. If Louisville Metro Animal Services winds up with pet rats or hamsters, Oh, Rats! A couple keeps rodents as pets. By Anne Marshall

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