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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Perhaps their mischievous reputation comes from movies like “Willard,” portraying squealing humans as rats trained by a social misfit, take over.

But it is scenes in the movie that Vicki Altman wants people to know, it’s just a movie.

“Rats are not a terrible awful thing, a domesticated rat,” Altman said.

Altman owns 8-month-old Cheyenne, a Japanese-bred domesticated rat, who curiously pops her head in and out of her pouch.

The owner of Cheyenne is sharing her red-eyed, whiskered friend with others through Mo-Kan Pet Partners, a non-profit visiting local organizations using animals as therapy.  According to Altman, Cheyenne is already a hit with her little visitors, kids who face medical battles of their own.

“They absolutely adored her, they loved her to death,” Altman said.

Altman said Cheyenne passed an evaluation to become a pet partner on Feb. 15.

“She had to be handled held by three different people, be around noisy situations, anything that you might encounter in a nursing home, places like the Ronald McDonald house,” Altman said.

While Cheyenne is visiting, Altman said she keeps her on a home-made harness.

Altman said Cheyenne is sweet, getting along with everyone, even her cat roommates.  But most importantly, Altman said Cheyenne knows how to care.

Altman said Cheyenne will meet adults for the first time during her next visits this week.  Altman said adults might be more squeamish than children, but said there is a process to warm them up to Cheyenne. She said she first, she never forces Cheyenne on anyone.  She introduces her from her pouch, allowing them to observe the rat. Once they’re comfortable enough, she takes her out.

Altman said it’s more of an educational experience for children.  She said the experience meeting Cheyenne is about having a friend for adults.

“They want companionship and a little animal like this as adorable and loving as she is can give them the sense of companionship,” Altman said.

A veterinarian said there is no approved vaccine for rats at this time for things like rabies.  He wrote it’s not possible because of the small size of the Cheyenne.

Also, as far as Mo-Kan Pet Partner’s president, Sue Manning, knows, she said they have never heard of a therapy rat in this area.

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