The Art of Stashing

Patsy Bugden
Illustrations by Françoise Cooperman
From the May/June 1998 Rat & Mouse Gazette

My rats live to stash.

My rats stash to live (or, at least they think so).

For as long as I have had rats, I have noticed the most engaging stashing behavior, and it seems to me that it's the same in each and every rat. I call it the stashing instinct - and they all have it inbred. I've seen it in the alley rats out behind my old Boston apartment (I used to watch them zing back and forth between the dumpster and their rat holes), and I see it now in my two boys, Oreo and Fritz. When it comes to stashing, there's not much difference between domesticated and wild rats.

The Art of Stashing can take several different forms. See if your rats fall into any of these categories:

  • Stash 'Til You Drop

    Yup. No matter how much there is, they're gonna keep at it 'til it's gone. This could be an entire bowl of popcorn, a whole box of Munchy-O's or Yogurt Drops... if there's a surplus, all must be stored away just in case. The pace is frantic, and usually the first few trips are executed with such glee (for them it's like winning the lottery) that the rat goes leap! leap! leap!! on his way to the stash. Of course, if there's really a lot to be put away, they usually get down to business after the first few trips. Sometimes they even get smart and drag the whole bag of potato chips in one trip. For this reason, if you can possibly help it, do not leave food unattended when your rats are out.

  • One is Not Enough Stashing

    Every rat I've ever had does this one. You hand them a treat, and they take it and then wait for another before running to the stash. What, one paltry little treat? It's not worth the trip! You have to give them two or three- however many that can be crammed between the teeth. Then it's drop-and-pick-up, drop- and-pick-up... all the way under the bed.

  • Paper Stashing

    Not only food falls prey to stashing. Large pieces of wrapping paper, 8-1/2 x 11 copier paper, tissue paper, a whole undulating roll of paper towels- the bigger, the better. There is nothing funnier than the sight of your rat tripping over a sheet of paper. They do not give up! No matter how perilous a climb, or how small the stash entry, they will cram that paper in. Not to mention, after the stashing part comes the ripping part!!

  • Theft Stashing

    This is the most insidious kind. It happens when you are not around to give out treats, and most usually it's something you value, or do not want the rats to get. For example, those big pink drawing erasers, pencils, paychecks, York Peppermint Patties, the only-photo-in-existence of Auntie May, gum... you get the idea. And the worst part is, you usually don't know it's gone until you find it three months later in the rat stash, chewed-up and peed on, or your rat comes out from under the bed, with fresh minty breath...

Rats will stash; there's no getting around it. Here are a couple of ways to make stashing a fun activity for both your rats and you:

  • Hide and Seek Stashing

    Place treats in neat, secret places all around your room - on shelves, around corners, in shoes- any place your rats can get into or reach, that isn't too obvious. This game sometimes lasts for days.

  • Exercise Stashing

    Hefty rat? Try this one: I call it Re-Treating. Dole out about 15 treats, and count the laps your rat makes, back and forth to the stash. Retrieve the treats from the stash, and repeat (of course, this depends on where your rat's stash is- it must be easily reached so you can get the goods back). This type of stashing works best if there's a lot of climbing and running involved. Make ‘em work for it!!

Happy stashing!