A little critter named Curly has curly whiskers, a long, hairless tail and small eyes that some would describe as beady. He was at the Winter Wonderland Party for Small Animals, where his proud papa was extolling his virtues.
"Believe it or not, I hated rats for years," said Bill Bolen of Robinson. "Now I think they're awesome! Rats are just as smart and friendly as a small dog."
Curly seemed to enjoy meeting and cuddling with guests at the Winter Wonderland Party for Small Animals at the Animal Nature store in Regent Square last Sunday.
Curly is a domestic or "fancy" rat. They come in a broad array of solid and multiple colors from white and champagne to black, and are nothing like the dreaded wild rats that scavenge for food and garbage.
Curly's mother was pregnant with him and his siblings when she and 14 other rats were taped up in a box and thrown into a dumpster. They were rescued by Pittsburgh Rat Lovers Club and Rescue (www.pittsburghratloversclub.org), whose members include Mr. Bolen and his wife, Dee.
Thirty-five people came to the Winter Wonderland Party, and most brought multiple pets. There were rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, mice, gerbils and two chinchillas who will never ever be killed to make expensive coats.
What do people and pets do at a party for small animals? They mix and mingle and tell stories about the animals they love. They pet and hold each other's pets. They take pictures as their animals took turns playing in a winter scene diorama complete with miniature pine trees.
A lot of networking went on with rescue groups -- one for rats, one for rabbits and two for guinea pigs. Paulina Lopez signed up to adopt a guinea pig named Mark. She'll take him home in two weeks after a checkup by the rescue group's veterinarian. When you adopt animals from any of these rescue groups, you get help and advice for the life of the animal.
The Bolens put a tiny red-and-gold crown on Curly's head and wrapped his body in a red and gold cape. He won second place in the best dressed category of a costume contest, which I judged.
What could be cuter than the rat king costume? How about the pink and black poodle skirt, black jacket and pink bandanna that won first place for a ferret named Mr. Vanilla Bean?
"Isn't Mr. Bean a male?" I asked owner Shannon Moore of Oakland, who made the skirt and accessories.
"Yes, but he's neutered and doesn't mind," she said.
Another prize winner was Eva, a 4-month-old lion head rabbit with Rabbit Wranglers rescue (www.rabbitwranglers.org). Foster mom Cassie Narkevic of Ambridge put a pink and red Valentine's bandanna around Eva's neck.
Scruffet, a Peruvian guinea pig who wore a flowered barrette in her long hair, was with Mark McClure of Forest Hills, who last year started Three Rivers Small Animal Rescue & Adoption Services (www.threeriversrescue.weebly.com). He took in 32 guinea pigs, including Joy and Frostina, who left the party with pre-approved adopters.
Julene Robinson of New Kensington was also there with guinea pigs. She's been rescuing them and finding them homes for 10 years in her Wheek Care Guinea Pig Rescue (www.facebook.com/wheekcareguineapigrescue). She takes in several hundred each year.
Animal Nature co-owners Nina Wolf and Rachel Lamory sell food and supplies for little critters as well as cats, dogs and chickens. They view the business as "a wellness market for animals," said Ms. Wolf, with pet food that is "safe, recall-free and well-researched."
If you go to their store at 7610 Forbes Ave., Regent Square (15221), you'll meet Mumpford, a black cat who has lived at the store since Thanksgiving 2011. He lived on the streets with a feral colony but was brought in from the cold because he was clearly friendly, not feral.
"Usually, he's the center of attention," said Ms. Lamory, "and he's wondering why he isn't today."
Beat the heat
Female kittens and cats will be spayed for $20 from now until Feb. 28 at Animal Friends in Ohio Township. The Beat the Heat special is funded by a PetSmart Charities grant. The shelter suggests spaying in advance of a heat cycle to prevent the birth of unwanted kittens in the spring.
"Female cats have as many as three litters a year, and kittens can breed as young as 4 months old," said Carol Whaley, the shelter's low-cost spay/neuter coordinator.
The $20 rate is available to residents of Allegheny County. Appointments must be scheduled, and you must mention the Beat the Heat promotion. Go to www.ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org or call 412-847-7004.
At the dog wash
Now here's an event that takes all the sting out of washing a dog: Wash N Wine at Larry's Laundromutt, 201 Ohio River Blvd., Edgeworth (15143); 7-10 p.m. Friday. Sip wine and munch on cheese while volunteers from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society wash your dog. Cost is a $10 donation to WPHS.
Bowling for Dobermans
A 3-5 p.m. bowling session at Nesbit Lanes, 3501 Leechburg Road, Plum (15239) next Saturday will benefit Distinguished Dobermans Rescue Inc. Tickets are $15 per person in advance or $20 at the door, which includes bowling, shoe rental, pizza and soda. For more information, call Tracy Shimko at 412-812-1849.
The annual Steel City Kitties cat club show is next weekend 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, at the Circuit Center, 5 Hot Metal St., South Side (15203). Parking is free, but admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children. Kids under 5 get in free. Information: www.steelcitykitties.com.
Grieving for pets
Every year around Valentine's Day, the Healing Hearts for Pet Lovers event helps people whose pets have died. It's offered by Deb Chebatoris, owner of Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation in Bridgeville. It's free, but you have to call 412-220-7800 to reserve a seat for the event at 2:15 p.m. Feb. 10 at LaBella Bean Cafe in Bridgeville.
Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to email@example.com. It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic.