Local breeder hopes to break rat sterotypes

Please use the SHARE buttons to forward this news

Tucked away in a spare bedroom dubbed “the kid’s room” is where Crystal Mathews houses more than 10 members of her family — a colony of rats.

By Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @heatheronwfdn | hosbourne@nwfdailynews.com

FORT WALTON BEACH — What some might consider a nightmare is one woman’s pride and joy.

Tucked away in a spare bedroom dubbed “the kid’s room” is where Crystal Mathews houses more than 10 members of her family — a colony of rats.

“Many years ago when I was a kid, on my 16th birthday me and my friend went to a pet store and they had baby rats for sale for a quarter apiece,” Mathews said. “It all started from there.”

More than 20 years later, Mathews is now the proud owner of Dixieland B Rats, a business in which she breeds rodents and sells their babies to “loving families.” Mathews doesn’t breed just any rat, but specializes in dumbo rats, a domestic breed known for having abnormally large ears on the sides of their head rather than on top.

“I don’t consider this a business. I consider it my hobby,” Mathews said Wednesday while showing off a recent litter of three dumbo rat babies. “I look for certain traits to breed, and if I don’t see those traits, then I’ll re-home them for pets.”

If the rats do possess the sought-after traits, Mathews said she may keep some for future breeding. Out of respect for the animals, she breeds each female only twice.

Male rats are called bucks and females are called does. Pregnant rats are called dams, and a group of rats is called a mischief.

Apart from the rats’ appearances, breeding for temperament and health is especially important. Mathews, who is preparing to breed rats as Christmas gifts for her neighbor’s children, said despite what the stereotype might suggest, rats make excellent pets.

“People have such a bad reputation with them and think that they are nasty, disgusting things,” Mathews said. “They’re actually extremely clean. They’re less prone to bite than hamsters and gerbils.”

Mathews said the rodents also can be trained to do tricks and use a litter box. The only drawback, however, is that the average lifespan is only 2 years.

Dumbo rats, which are rare in the Panhandle, are a surprisingly sought-after item despite their short lifespans, according to Mathews. Her rattery now has 12 clients on a waiting list.

“I’m really low key,” Mathews said. “I’ll only breed one or two at a time and I won’t breed another one until I know for a fact that I have homes for their babies. I don’t want to get stuck with a bunch of them that I can’t do anything with. I make certain that everyone has their little forever home.”

Although many ratteries are known to breed rats as food for reptiles, Mathews said her rats only go to loving homes to be cherished pets.

“I believe in the circle of life, so I’m not against it,” Mathews said. “Everything has to eat, but I don’t want to use mine for that because I’m breeding a special type.”

Mathews, who has the support of her boyfriend and even neighbors in her apartment complex, said she looks forward to years of educating the community and breaking ratty stereotypes.

“I don’t see me quitting anytime soon, I really don’t,” Mathews said. “It’s fun. I love the anticipation of waiting to see what you’re going to come out with in each litter.”

Be the first to comment on "Local breeder hopes to break rat sterotypes"

Leave a comment