Fall, 2002. The homemade cage had been empty and silent for eight months. I spent hours in pet stores, staring at the rats through the glass. They popcorned and play fought and sneezed, but day after day I left with empty hands.

I saw an ad in September. It was for a rat rescue adoption fair in a nearby city, held in a pet shop. I went. I walked to the back, and saw two cages filled with swirling black and white wisps. They leapt, they climbed, they tumbled on top of each other. The lady opened the cage door just as one little black rat launched himself at that very spot. He flew through the open door and fell, surprised, to the floor. I scooped him up.

The little rat was tame, unbelievably tame. He climbed nervously around the shoulders of this strange human giant. When he couldn't hold it any more, he peed. I played with him for an hour. He trusted me not to harm him, stunning faith in an animal so tiny he fit in my palm.

I looked in the cage again. I asked to have two more taken out. That one, a black one with a half-white nose, and the little one over there behind the wheel, a white one with a black head. I had three little rats crawling on me now, trusting and nervous and tangled in my hair. I'm taking these three, I said, and I signed the paperwork and put them in a little carrier.

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