Short on space? Rats, rabbits may be the perfect pet |

Short on space? Rats, rabbits may be the perfect pet

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk Friskie, a spayed female rabbit, is currently residing at the animal shelter but looking for a new home. Rabbits take up less space and are lower maintenance than dogs and cats.

SUMMIT COUNTY – For all the delights of owning a dog in the High Country, pooches have their drawbacks as well.Many locals who have lived in Summit County for several years – and in as many houses – know how tough it can be to move with a dog or cat. Finding pet-friendly landlords or roommates can feel like a search for fresh tracks on a Saturday afternoon.And whether you rent or own your home, the high cost of housing can put a squeeze on the amount of living space you’re able to afford. It doesn’t take long to figure out how small 650 square feet is when you’ve got a 70-pound, panting, slobbering, barking ball of fur as a housemate.And if you’re a dog owner living in a condo complex, with all its rules and regulations, sooner or later you’re going to be out on cold, snowy winter nights picking up poop.

So what’s a High Country-dweller in search of nonhuman companionship to do?Adopt a small animal – all the cute fuzziness with a fraction of the hassle. A rabbit, rat, hamster, guinea pig or mouse could be the pet you’ve been looking for.”Usually living spaces for rats and rabbits are smaller – fish tank-size, so it’s convenient to move them,” said veterinary technician Dana Espinoza of Breckenridge Animal Clinic. “And as far as care, they don’t have the high maintenance and energy levels that dogs do, either.”Karen Walthall, animal technician at Summit County Animal Shelter, bought three pet rats when her children were young.”They were very well socialized – very cuddly and easy to handle,” Walthall said. “They came when they were called and they knew their names. They won’t bond the way a dog or cat will, but they can be very friendly.”

Socialization is the key to developing a good relationship with a rodent, according to Walthall. Lots of handling and petting early on will encourage life-long affectionate behavior. Without such attention at young ages, small mammals may be nervous, shy or even aggressive and prone to biting. The shelter periodically receives rabbits that demonstrate a broad spectrum of temperaments.”We’ve had some very skittish rabbits who are very wary of people. And we’ve had other rabbits that crawl right into your lap,” Walthall said.In addition to their space-saving advantages, rats and rabbits are less time-consuming and expensive than dogs and cats. Most can be left alone for two days at a time with food and water while their owners are off on a road trip to Jackson Hole.”Other than the initial investment in a cage, it’s a much more reasonable endeavor. You don’t need leashes or extra things in the car. But just like anything, if you want to get outrageous, you can certainly go all out and get those three-story cages,” Walthall said.One of rodents’ downsides is their short life span. Rabbits live about seven years, rats three to four and mice only one to two years.

“The main causes of death are tumors or intestinal problems,” Espinoza said. “Their little bodies are so small, they don’t have the oomph to kick what a dog or cat might be able to.”Walthall had to euthanize her three pet rats when her children were 6 and 8 years old.”It was sad, but it’s about understanding that process is part of life and that all animals, including us, will die someday. We all said our prayers and buried them. Just like any process, it’s something children eventually learn,” Walthall said.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 203 or

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