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The Chinese year 4706 officially begins today, and with it, the Chinese Year of the Rat.If there’s ever been an animal that needed a total image makeover, it’s the rat.Many people loathe rats and associate them with disease and filth – hardly a four-star recommendation for the furry creatures. But the truth is, they are highly intelligent animals, have been amazingly beneficial in medicine and can be very affectionate pets, said a Texas A&M University veterinarian and rat expert.Dr. Kristina Kalivoda, a small animal instructor in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, believes rats are among the most misunderstood of all animals and are not the horror from the sewer people tend to think they are.“Rats are very smart and are known for their problem-solving skills,” said Kalivoda, an admitted rat fan.“Many people believe they are nasty, filthy creatures, and that’s not true at all,” she said. “In fact, rats wash themselves several times a day, about as often a most cats.”The name itself poses a rat problem.Rats are rodents, and rodent comes from the Latin word meaning “to gnaw.”Rats do like to chew and they are constantly searching for food.