How ‘Leave It To Beaver’ Captured the Strange Obsession With Pet Rats in the 1950s

by Joe Rutland

You know how much Leave It To Beaver loved to have different storylines with animals. Well, we venture forth about pet rats. Yes, this was something of a fad back in the Fifties and Leave It To Beaver was there in the middle of it. Jerry Mathers, as young Beaver, always knew how to get into trouble. It was, like, the ongoing theme of the sitcom. Still, this stuff about pet rats is something to look into with a magnifying glass.

‘Leave It To Beaver’ Highlights Pet Rat Fandom in Episode

We will start this weird pet rat trip with an episode of Leave It to Beaver. This one is called Beaver’s Rat and involves Veronica Cartwright, who played Violet Rutherford. Her name should be familiar to classic TV fans from Make Room for Daddy with Danny Thomas and her voyages on Lost in Space, according to MeTV.

So, this episode just centers on a pet rat Beaver gets through some swaps with kids at school. Ward tells Beaver to dump the rat because it is not welcome at home. Now, Beaver goes and sells it to Violet. This will lead Fred Rutherford, played by The Dick Van Dyke Show star Richard Deacon, over to the Cleavers for a refund.

But this rat would become a pet for Mrs. Rutherford. In the Fifties, it was believed that housewives feared mice and rats above all else.

Some Housewives Did Not Fear the Rat Much at All

Alright, let’s get more into the pet rat saga here. Back in 1956, The Sacramento Bee ran a story featuring interviews with housewives. They said that they were not afraid of mice, contrary to popular belief. One housewife said keeping her own pet rat as a girl helped her develop a deep fondness for the rodent.

“I once had a pet rat and thought very much of it,” the housewife said. She did see how a pet rat could truly incite fear.

“I remember one time a small boy took the pet rat and placed it on a woman,” she said. “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 around the start of the 20th Century. By the Fifties, pet rats had become so ubiquitous that a stereotype had emerged. There was an expectation that every boy went through a stage of life like Beaver. So, you can get a head start on any new pet rat craze by watching Beaver deal with it.