Befriending a Rat

chicken coop - image courtesy of Gretchen Crowder

In our urban backyard, we have a chicken coop constructed just right to fit our five, almost full-grown chickens. My animal-loving family promises me eggs are just around the corner. Having a chicken coop in the backyard, however, means other animals are sometimes attracted to our yard at night—including, most recently, a pesky, neighborhood rat that continuously tried to break into the coop.

My husband considered a variety of ways to take care of the rat, finally settling on setting a couple of traps in our yard. My oldest son was intrigued by the process. I thought he’d be disturbed by the idea of a rat trap, but he seemed OK with it overall. He just had a lot of questions. Then, several weeks after we had solved our rat problem, he came home from camp with a simple cardboard box. “What’s that for?” I asked him. He went on to tell me his elaborate scheme for trapping a rat alive in this cardboard box and bringing it to his best friend at camp so he could pet him.

I could feel myself cringe as I immediately told him my passionate feelings against petting rats, especially wild-caught rats. I assured him that his friend’s parents would also be less than thrilled to have their son pet a rat. My son looked earnestly at me and said, “Mom, you don’t like rats? Do people not like rats?” He paused to consider this revelation and then replied with conviction: “Then I must catch one so I can show him he has a friend.”

Often, we consider Jesus only from the vantage points depicted in the Bible. And therefore, we do not know specifics about his childhood. I imagine, however, since his home was not the urban setup we have, he probably had many animals, like chickens, in his yard. I also imagine his family had pests like rats to take care of to ensure the safety of the yard animals and the cleanliness of their home. And in my imaginings, Jesus as a young boy was also immensely compassionate, especially for those outcasted. After all, as an adult, he embraced tax collectors, lepers, and sinners those in his community would not.

In that moment, as my son stood in front of me eager to make friends with a rat, I caught a glimpse of Jesus at six years old: a young boy standing in front of Mary with an earnest desire to befriend a creature many would not care about. And I thought, “Seriously, how can someone say no to that?”

Of course, I do not have any intention of letting my son befriend a rat, so as any good parent would do, I told my son he should wait until Daddy came home to talk again about his plans. However, as he left to go play, I continued to think about this small, innocent display of love. And I marveled at the courage it takes to be the one willing to befriend another simply because we know no one else will.

I hope as an adult I have retained some of the compassion I had as a child. But when I struggle, I am so grateful to have a tangible reminder in my children of what compassion looks like. Every day they seem to open my eyes to something new.

There is a prayer by Pedro Arrupe that begins, “Grant me, O Lord, to see everything now with new eyes.” Moments like these, when Jesus stands right in front of me, demonstrating boundless compassion, I know I have the opportunity to see with new eyes. The prayer continues, asking the Lord to help us communicate “the things that are yours.” As another school year begins, I find myself contemplating how I can communicate this boundless compassion to all those I encounter. I wonder if I will have the courage to demonstrate this selfless love to everyone, even those that others might cast aside.

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Gretchen Crowder
Gretchen Crowder has served as a campus minister and Ignatian educator for the Jesuit Dallas community for the last 15 years. She is also a freelance writer and speaker and is the host of Loved As You Are: An Ignatian Podcast. She has a B.S. in mathematics and a M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.T.S. from the University of Dallas. She resides in Dallas, TX, with her husband, three boys, and an ever-growing number of pets.


  1. You are so blessed to have your son’s curious and “new eyes” to see the wonders of our Father’s creations and living creatures, including a small rat!! Thanks for sharing this lovely life-lesson. Hahaha! I live with one!! My 25-year-old son (my eldest) is born in the year of the Rat (in the Chinese Zodiac Calendar).. And since we are Chinese (from Singapore), we celebrate the Lunar New Year of the Rat every 12 years. Last year was the Year of the Golden Rat.. btw and my son turned 24..a bright, guileless, hard-working rat who loves to lead in Praise and Worship on his piano/keyboard for his Catholic Students Soc. at NUS (our local university) and has a lovely tenor voice. He just graduated this month (Bach.of Chemical Engineering) and has started a traineeship with Novartis (his ideal, dream job and company). Like all those born in the year of the Rat, he has a very inquisitive mind and does love to seek new ways to broaden our lives, grab the best deals, seek new adventures and gives his all to his friends, family and loved ones. As a trained combat medic in the army (during his National Service days), he was always the early-bird in the army camp field hospital, reporting to the clinic & hospital at 7 a.m. (or earlier!!) on a daily basis…typical rat hours!! Focused on serving and loving God, Jesus, our Blessed Mother Mary, his ex-fellow army mates, his university friends and fellow-Catholics and now his lab-colleagues at Novartis, my son has dedicated his entire being to being helpful (caring & mindful) to others who need his mental strength, his talents and gifts in P&W music, his tenacity to overcome difficult, complicated tasks and his determination to problem-solve and get the results he strives to achieve. I am so proud to know and love this rat-son of mine.

  2. This post makes me smile. I have a twelve year old daughter who begged a few months ago for pet rats. (I get mama of the year for agreeing!) She wanted the pet rats simply because she was concerned that no one else would want them. She has always had a heart for any creature great or small seen as less lovable by others. I think your post beautifully summarizes what she would say as well. (And I must say, the rats that she loves, have made wonderful pets! I may even be guilty of sneaking them out of the cage to cuddle! Shhh!)

  3. Gretchen that is a wonderful story. In it you mention how your son wanted to bring the rat to camp so he could show “him” he has a friend. As I read this I wondered if “him” may have been your son’s friend at camp whom he perceived as shy since Mr. Rat already knew your son was a friend. Just a thought. And I’d say you have an adorable son who is learning well.

  4. It’s at moments like this we really see why Jesus advises us to see heaven through the mind and heart of a child.
    Thank you for sharing this.


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