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B.C. couple teaches rescued rats to drive tiny cars

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SQUAMISH, B.C. -

To appreciate why Kendal Crawford couldn’t have been more pleased to get a pair of tiny handmade cars for her birthday, we need to go back to when she and her partner Shaun Stephens-Whale decided to adopt a pet.

“We were potentially looking for a dog,” Sean says. “[But then] I listened to a podcast about rats.”

Kendal had happened to read an article about the potential similarities between dogs and rats too, so the couple visited an animal shelter and met a rodent named Kronk.

“He looked a little rough,” Kendal says. “He looked like a rat you’d find in a sewer.”

Kronk had had a rough life before being rescued. But there was something about his curiosity and the way he’d bonded with another rat named Kuzko that intrigued the couple.

“This is a really special little guy,” Kendal recalls thinking.

Kendal and Shaun decided to consider whether to adopt them both over the next couple days.

“We got about a block away,” Shaun recalls with a smile. “And we turned around and picked them up.”

That first night, when the rats cuddled up close to the couple, Kendal and Shaun knew they’d made the right decision.

“Welcome Kronk and Kuzko into our lives,” Kendal smiles.

After the rats felt safe in their new home, the next step was to make them feel happy.

“Rats thrive on enrichment,” Kendal says.

Like a dog looks forward to going for walks or chasing balls, the rats relished learning every new trick Kendal and Shaun taught them.

They mastered shaking a paw, standing on their hind legs and spinning around, running through obstacle courses, before moving on to solving puzzle boxes designed for dogs, playing tiny bowling lanes, and pulling ropes to open doors.

When the rats weren’t playing increasingly complex games, they chose to be as close to their humans and they could, whether it's cuddling up on the couch while watching a movie, or riding around on their shoulders while they’re working around the home.

For Halloween, they all dressed up like characters from the culinary rat movie Ratatouille.

“They were really everything I ever could have hoped for in a pet,” Shaun says.

But then on Kendal’s birthday, something happened that they never would have imagined.

Kendal’s dad surprised her by building two little electric cars for the rats to learn to drive on. They featured three paw-sized pedals on the dashboard for the rats to press to move in different directions.

“I did not think they were going to figure anything out,” Shaun admits.

But after Kuzko and Kronk learned to how to press the middle pedal to move forward on the first day, Shaun and Kendal were committed to teaching them how to turn left and right, which the rats mastered after a week.

Now the rats can drive in random patterns across the living room to get to a person holding a treat. If they get stuck, they know how to turn the vehicle around to go in the correct direction.

“Their ability to conceptualize where they are just as humans do when they’re driving is pretty incredible,” Shaun says.

Now Kendal and Shaun are sharing their adventures with Kuzko and Kronk on Instagram with the hope of showcasing how rich and rewarding a connection with another creature can be if we support them in living their best lives.

“I’m in awe,” Kendal says. “Their experience of the world is so much deeper than we realize.”

“They’re creative, they’re smart, they’re affectionate,” Shaun smiles. “They’ve definitely brought a lot of joy to [our] life.”

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