FALLON - Johnnie Miller, also known affectionately as "rat boy," is an 18-year-old who drives a $46,000 Hummer, a luxury vehicle he purchased two years ago with money he earned breeding and selling rats.
Miller lost interest in the rodent trade during his junior year in high school, but he said he wants to reopen the lucrative business.
"I've always been interested in making money," said Miller, who began selling rats at age 8.
Although some might consider rodent breeding an odd income source, it is a normal part of Miller's life, and there is a demand for his product.
He started out selling offspring of his sister's extra feeder rats to friends in elementary school, and business grew from there. He created a breeding laboratory in his mother's pantry and built a wooden rat house to store the critters.
Miller also created his own rat food. He combined hot dogs or other meat with a high-protein grain mix to keep his rats healthy. It took two hours a day to feed and tend to them.
"Rats can be pretty ingenious sometimes," he said, reminiscing of a time when 230 of his rats chewed through the cage's metal bars and escaped.
To keep track of his inventory, Miller kept charts and records of rats by age and breeding status.
Miller and his mother made all deliveries by themselves. With rats in homemade Tupperware cages, the duo drove as far as California to deliver to customers.
Soon Miller had about 450 breeder rats and hundreds of others for sale at $5 to $12 each, depending on size. Word-of-mouth advertising brought reptile owners, rodent enthusiasts and pet-shop owners to seek him out.
Because Miller was among the few breeders in the region, most Northern Nevada pet shops relied on him as their primary rat supplier. When Miller stopped providing rats, some shops closed down, he said.
This rat monopoly began to crumble under the stress of a couple of factors. For one, Miller wanted to pursue other high school interests and lost motivation.
He also lost customers because pet reptiles, such as boa constrictors and pythons, were growing less popular.
"It (snake owning) was a fad, and people were getting rid of their snakes; it's coming back, though."
It has been two years since Miller bred rats. But he attended Eagle View Entrepreneurial College last month to learn about restarting a large-scale business. He plans to sell rats on the Internet, buy a van for transporting them, open rat supply shops, and hire one or two employees.
"The key to expanding a business of any type is to systemize," said Miller, who plans to restructure his operation with automated feeders. He estimates that he can earn between $12,000 and $29,000 in rat sales in six months.
Re-establishing the rat business will be a tough undertaking, but he is motivated to be successful.
"It's the same with anything," he said. "It's just about determination."