In 2012 in the United Kingdom, a number of people caught Seoul hantavirus from their pet rats. Pet rat owners were warned about the potential risk their pets posed; however they did not want to change the way they interacted with them.
To understand why, HPRU EZI PhD student Charlotte Robin and other HPRU members interviewed pet rat owners to explore how they made sense of the disease and the risk it posed. We found that they viewed pet and wild rats as different species, and by giving rats the status of ‘pet’, this removed any association the animal had with dirt and disease.
For owners, rats are not inherently dirty; they only become dirty when they live in dirty environments. Rats that were kept as pets were isolated from the ‘contaminated’ outside world and therefore were seen as clean. This enabled owners to maintain the close bond they have with their pets.