PRIMARY schoolchildren in Old Portsmouth are getting acquainted with two highly intelligent new classmates this term – rats.
The class pets who have been named after the American cartoon characters Phineas and Ferb are so popular that youngsters at St Jude’s Primary will be putting names in a hat to take them home during half-term.
Despite initial reservations, the boys and girls in year three are wasting no time teaching their furry friends new tricks.
They hope the resourceful rodents will soon be able to recognise their names, find their way through a maze and distinguish between two differently-coloured bowls with food inside.
Jude Peattie, seven, said: ‘They haven’t learned much yet but it’s still early days and I’m looking forward to the day they can perform lots of fun tricks.
‘When I heard we were getting pet rats I thought they would be toys, so it was a big surprise to find out they were real.
‘I hope I get to take them home in half-term, especially Phineas who is very friendly and likes to play.
‘Rats get a bit of a bad reputation.
‘People say they are scary and dirty, but we’ve all seen another side to them.’
Scarlett Harris, seven, admits her initial reaction to the rats was ‘they’re disgusting’.
She said: ‘My dad used to have a pet rat and when he let it out it would go to the rubbish bin and nibble away, so I didn’t like them at all.
‘But Phineas and Ferb are tiny and really cute and I’ve been amazed at how clever they are. We all sit in a circle to let them out for a run but they’ve managed to find little gaps to get out.
‘My favourite is Ferb because he is quiet and he doesn’t like to come out of his cage. I like to give him a cuddle and let him sit on my shoulder. This experience has taught me you can change your mind about things.
‘I like rats now and I know I’ll like them even when they grow very big.’
Nina Evans, a year three teacher who has owned rats in the past, said she thought they would make great pets.
She said: ‘Rats are highly intelligent and fun animals and they are not full of disease.
‘When I first suggested the idea to the class there was a little apprehension and one pupil said “they spread the plague” but now the children absolutely love them.
‘Phineas and Ferb are only six weeks old but I’m confident they will learn to do lots of clever things.’