Leave It to Beaver perfectly captured the Fifties' love-hate relationship with pet rats

Back when every kid went through a phase where they kept a rat in their pocket.

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The last episode of Leave It to Beaver where Veronica Cartwright appears as Violet Rutherford centers on a pet rat that Beaver acquires through a series of swaps with kids at school.

When Ward tells Beaver the rat isn’t welcome in their home, the Beav eventually sells the rodent off to Violet, sending her father Fred Rutherford straight to the Cleavers to demand a refund.

The punchline of this episode arrives when "Beaver’s Rat" becomes a beloved pet of Mrs. Rutherford, because in the Fifties, it was largely believed that housewives feared mice and rats above all else.

In 1956, The Sacramento Bee ran a story featuring a series of interviews with housewives declaring they were not afraid of mice, contrary to popular belief. One housewife in that interview recalled keeping her own pet rat as a girl and developing a deep fondness for the rodent.

"I once had a pet rat and thought very much of it," the housewife said.

But even though she loved her pet rat, she had seen firsthand how rats could incite fear.

"I remember one time a small boy took the pet rat and placed it on a woman," she went on. "Not only did the experience scare the woman, but the rat as well."

Before Beaver got his pet rat, people had been keeping rats as pets for 100 years, but the whiskered critters started really gaining popularity as pets starting in 1901.

The story goes that’s when professional breeders started selecting rats for science experiments based on their personalities and colors of coats. From there, the friendliest, fanciest rats never made it to the lab, instead becoming prized companions in homes of rodent lovers everywhere.

And by the 1950s, pet rats had become so ubiquitous that a stereotype had emerged where it was expected that every boy went through a stage of life like Beaver did where he kept a pet rat in his pocket.

In 1956, a reporter from The Bend Bulletin interviewed a woman who had recently opened a pet store. When the reporter asked the woman about the rats in the store, she was visibly surprised he found them to be an odd pet and asked, "Didn’t you ever have a pet rat?"

"No, no pet rat," the reporter answered.

The woman couldn’t believe it and felt the need to elaborate:

"You didn’t ever carry a pet rat in your pocket when you were a boy?" she asked.

There is plenty of evidence to back the pet store owner’s notion that every boy kept a pet rat at some point.

Stories in the newspapers of young boys making mischief with pet rats span the decade, including this report from the Alternative Press in 1951:

A 4-year-old boy named Denny Ray was playing with his pet rat when it ran into a dark closet. Hoping to find the rat, the boy unknowingly lit a match near some cleaning supplies and though no one was hurt, the resulting fire caused his house and 14 others on his block to burn down.

Sometimes these news stories almost seem to stoke fear of rats, sensationally reporting injuries and potential tragedies, small and large.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported in 1959 when a 12-year-old boy got bit on his right thumb by a pet rat his sister Norma brought home from a biology class. As in Beaver’s case, the rat was promptly rehomed.

On the more distressing end of the pet rat story spectrum, The Miami News reported in 1951 that a 2-year-old boy was playing with his pet rat when he got bored and wandered off.

The pet rat in the meantime crept into his baby sister’s crib. When their mom found the rat so close to endangering her baby, she too put the pet rat out of the home for good.

But not everybody was put off by pet rats.

Other families went to the papers to report the tragic losses of cherished rats.

In 1958, The News Tribune reported a family in Kansas was moving when they misplaced their pet rat. The truth behind the rat’s disappearance was revealed when they asked their 2-year-old daughter if she’d seen the rodent and she responded, "Kitty, yum, yum."

In fact, most of the stories of pet rats that were kept in the Fifties are from fans who are depicted at ages young and old, cradling their rodents tenderly in photos.

This intense bond is a feeling that only people who once kept a pet rat in their pocket can understand.

On Leave It to Beaver, Fred Rutherford shows a little befuddlement when he ends up telling Beaver that his wife loves the pet rat (adorably named Peter Gunn) even more than the young boy does.

Perhaps the shared sentiment is captured best by a 10-year-old named Dickie, who felt compelled to write a letter to the editor of The Leavenworth Times in 1952, explaining what made his connection to his rat so special: "I have a pet rat. I like him very much. He liked me."

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Deleted 26 months ago
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LoveMETV22 26 months ago
Karen Sue Trent IMDb page:


eddiecantorfan 27 months ago
Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond ) and
Lumpy Rutherford (Frank Bank)are
Fantastic Wiseguys and Practical
Jokers .
zman47240 27 months ago
Really like those animal centered episodes of LITB. The one where the monkey was swinging from the chandelier during June’s womens club meeting was a hoot.
CouchPotato19 27 months ago
I've recently known some people with pet rats and guinea pigs. Nothing that unusual about it.
Runeshaper 27 months ago
I never knew that keeping a pet rat was a common way of living back then. It's pretty cool that people saw them in a positive light and even showed them some love.
eugenebelvinandmoosefan8 27 months ago
Is it possible to receive RETRO TV with an
Outdoor TV antenna and does anyone know the name of the company that makes these outdoor TV antennas for between 150 miles
And 200 miles.
Why did the FCC make local TV stations
Switch from Analog to Digital TV stations?
eugenebelvinandmoosefan8 27 months ago
Does anyone know where I can buy an outdoor TV antenna with a signal range of between 15O miles and 200 miles and the
name of the company that makes these outdoor TV antennas for between 150
Miles and 200 miles?
I'm sure there are many retailers of outdoor antennas. Where you buy one is your personal choice.
Here is one review of TV antennas:


As probably with most there are no guarantees. The manufacturer cant control obstructions, terrain etc....You'll have to research it and make your own decision.
CoreyC 27 months ago
Rats went out of favor with the movie Willard and sequel Ben.
L CoreyC 26 months ago
Let's make one thing clear....

Getting a rat from a pet store and keeping it in a nice large clean cage IS VERY DIFFERENT than seeing wild rat(s) scurrying around in the street gutters with God-awful diseases.
Pacificsun 27 months ago
Since this is a LITB thread here's an enjoyable story about Jerry Mathers accepting an invitation to be the featured guest on a Cincinnati "celebrity" train ride. I like it because we always want these wonderful child stars to retain the charm they put into their roles. And Jerry Mathers is a prime example of that life long graciousness he always demonstrates. In his own words he explains the reason for being that way!

Enjoy the story!
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 27 months ago
What a great story. Jerry Mathers is so likeable, it would be cool if Tony Dow went along with him. That would be a real piece of nostalgia. I enjoyed the way Mather's and Dow's characters played off each other on the LITB Series.
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 27 months ago
Also Thank You for the share.
harlow1313 27 months ago
When I was a boy in the sixties, plastic Rat Fink rings became a brief fad.

I now have a fantastic Rat Fink figurine displayed on my counter.
bdettlingmetv harlow1313 27 months ago
I am very envious of your current Rat Fink figurine. I am settling for a t-shirt for now.

My wife is a few years older- she mentioned about having several of the Rat Fink rings from the nickel gum machine. One year a found a handful on eBay and got them for her for a Christmas stocking stuffer. She was very pleased with them, if I may say so myself.
harlow1313 bdettlingmetv 27 months ago
Thanks for the interesting post.

The Rat Fink statue is available on the Amazon. No home should be without one.

Jon 27 months ago
If I'd been Beaver I would've taken all the money Fred offered for Peter Gunn.
tootsieg Jon 27 months ago
So funny.
AgingDisgracefully 27 months ago
Beave teaches a valuable lesson: while the world is full of rodents, it's SO hard to meet the right one.
eugenebelvinandmoosefan8 27 months ago
It's too bad that Beavers Rat is the Final
Episode of Veronica Cartwright as Violet
Rutherford . Wendy Winkleman played
Violet Rutherford in one episode only
on an early episode of Leave It To Beaver .
On Happy Days Fonzie (Henry Winkler)
had a dog with the name Spunky who appeared in Two Episodes Only and
then Spunky vanished into thin air.
Just like Richie’s older brother Chuck disappeared after appearing briefly in just a few episodes.
tootsieg 27 months ago
Those were the days. Mice and rats were very popular pets.
Jon tootsieg 27 months ago
My family had various mice, hamsters & gerbils for years before having a pet cat. We even had a few gerbils when we had the cat. Gerbils are my favorite rodents, and I like the Dental PSA which has gerbils running a train.
Pacificsun 27 months ago
Cute story, and the author put a lot of time and effort into exploring the experience of having a pet rat! Good work!
ncadams27 27 months ago
I remember this episode. I think the real reason Mrs. Rutherford wanted the rat was to give Fred a hard time. He had to negotiate with Beaver to get it back. Too bad the show didn’t feature her more. I think she would have been an interesting character.
LoveMETV22 ncadams27 27 months ago
Agree, also Mr. and Mrs. Haskell, but guess it just wasn't in the storyline Oh well.
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