THEY have an unfortunate image as dirty, disease-ridden creatures . . . but rats just want to be loved.

As today marks the sixth annual World Rat Day, the Stubbington Ark pet rescue centre is urging animal lovers to welcome a homeless rat into their family.

It is hoped that this special day will give rats the respect they deserve for being one of the best and most attentive pets for children.

Pop and Poppy have called the Ark their home for almost a year now so the lively white and tan females would love nothing more than a new friend to bond with.

Echo, a three-year-old brown and white female, was forced into the shelter after her owner had to go into hospital a few months ago.

Vanessa Eden, from the Ark, said: "Rats need a stimulating environment because they are so intelligent and make perfect pets for youngsters because they love being handled.

"It is really important to get rid of the bad image that rats have of being dirty and nasty because it is simply not true.

"They really make strong bonds with their owners and unlike other rodents, such as hamsters, they are awake during the day, so are always ready to play."

If you would like to give a rat a home, visit the Stubbington Ark in Ranvilles Lane. It costs just £4 to adopt a rat and all money goes to the charity