I’m sitting on my couch waiting for a rat to die. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? And it is, tho not in the way most would imagine.
Jeremy McRatRat is a good little ratty. We knew he wouldn’t live forever, even with a nice, warm home and a healthy diet. When i went into the weedlings’ bedroom this morning, i knew it wasn’t good. The food i left him the night before was still in his bowl. He didn’t hop up when he saw me. And when i reached into pick him up, he whimpered. I think i probably whimpered too.
So i cuddled him up and took him downstairs. I swaddled him in an old, soft blankie. I fed him water off my fingertips when he wouldn’t take any from the bowl. When he wouldn’t eat a treat, i put some pancake syrup on my finger for him to lick off. A few hours later, he is still hanging in there. He is barely moving. Too weak to stand up fully, he scoots himself on occasion to get more comfortable or change position. I wish i could make him feel better, at least for this final part of his journey. It might not have started pretty, but Jeremy eventually had himself a good life.
One of my daughter’s favorite books growing up was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. From the first time i read it to her, she said she would someday have a rat of her own. Fast forward to a dozen years later. My daughter is working on weekends and during the summers now and has a little money of her own. She does her research and picks out a good cage – One with plenty of space. She picks out bedding and researches diet. Then we go to the pet store. There were 2 cages of “fancy” rats, the cute and fluffy ones destined to be pets. On a separate stand were the “feeder” rats, the boring looking ones that were destined to become Nagina’s weekly meal. As my daughter cooed over the fancy rats, her eye kept being drawn to the other cage where a plain heather-brown rat was up on his hind legs staring at her. When she inquired and found that the only difference between the cages was a cuteness factor, she picked him. She also picked a pretty rat who looked more like a pet.
They came home with us in their sturdy cardboard carriers. I don’t think my daughter left her room for 2 days – she sat on her floor and played with them, fed them, gave them treats, until they got used to her. She decided to use names from her favorite story. The pretty rat got named Brisby (Frisby was changed to Brisby in the movie version of the story). She wanted another name from NIMH for the the plain one, but none seemed to fit. Because he was darker, she went with Jeremy, actually the name of a lovable crow in the book. The two pets had enviable little ratty lives. Food that my daughter custom blended, plenty of time outside the cage to play with her, or just cuddle with her while she was studying. Few rats have it better.
When i decided to sell my house the following fall, the ratties came with us to the apartment. Brisby didn’t take the change too well, and passed on shortly after. I buried him under my chocolate-mint in the garden.
Because we were told rats didn’t do well alone, my daughter didn’t waste any time getting Jeremy a new partner. Ramsay was a sweet little thing, but he didn’t take the change from shop to apartment well at all and died in a few days. He now resides under my hosta.
The next partner was Remi. Remi was an asshole. He was the most handsome of all, but he was grouchy. When i saw one day that he had bitten my daughter bad enough to draw blood, he got released into the woods.
All thru this, Jeremy remained his sweet cuddly self. Rather than attempt another partner right away when we released Remi, we decided to let him be king for a while. Surprisingly, he took to it very well. He liked getting all the attention. And he made a playmate in our chi-mix dog. When he got his out-of-cage time, he and Siri-dog would play for ages like best buddies. It was heartwarming to watch the dog, bred to be a ratter, and her bestie, a common rat, play like kids.
When my daughter went off to college, Jeremy remained in his usual spot. My son likes him and did a good job of keeping him fed and watered. I, however, took on the duty of loving. I picked him up and gave him scritchens every day. At least once a week, i let him out to play with Siri for a few hours. When i could, i’d let him cuddle with me while i read or wrote. I’d long since gotten over the creepiness of holding a rat, but the smell still makes me wrinkle my nose. In spite of that, i made sure he felt the love and security of being a “pet”. Rat or not, he is a member of the family and is treated as such.
He is an interesting bloke, this rat. I’m certain he has a bit of Brit in him because if i leave my tea anywhere low while he is out, i catch him dipping his snout into it and taking a good, long pull. He also has a sweet tooth (Just like his momma, my daughter) and will try to do tricks for a piece of frosted breakfast cereal. He will actually smile for a piece of banana. And a cookie? You can get him to dance a rapture for that! He definitely knows what’s good in life.
He is also ridiculously smart for a rat with no education. When i let him loose, and it’s time to go back to the cage, all i have to do is call his name, and he appears and sits on my foot. He outsmarts the dog at every turn. He is unfailingly charming, popping up on hind legs for any visitor to his corner. And if you cuddle him close, he will lick you in appreciation. Just a lovable little pet. I hate that he is leaving us. He has shown us so much love and taught us so much.
He taught us that you don’t have to be beautiful or fancy to be lovable. That it’s up to each of us to make playmates of our enemies. That it’s ok to eat your favorite stuff first, as long as you also eat the healthy stuff, too. And he taught us that not all rats are vermin, even if they come from the feeder cage. All of this is true for rats, and true for humans, as well.
I will remember these lessons. I hope you will, too. And when we share these lessons with our grand-weedlings and they ask us how we know these things, we can say in total honesty, “A rat told me so.”