Sunday, March 7, 2010

R.I.P. Mr. Rat

Mr. Rat was the first rat that I had. I got him from my friend Jim, AKA "The Rat Daddy".

Jim travels a lot, and as I have found out, getting a 'rat sitter' isn't easy. He put out an email asking if someone would be willing to adopt Mr. Rat. I had hamsters before, and I've always been a big fan of the rodents, so I thought, "What the heck, how much different could a rat be from a hamster?" Hamsters are easy to care for, so a rat will be a breeze.

Yeah, sure.

First I did my research. I read every web site about pet rats that there is. I could hardly find two sites that agreed on anything. Crap. But I soldiered on, because really, how hard could this be?

Several of the web sites said that rats need big cages. So I bought a big cage. A great, big, cage. That was completely impossible to put together. I mean really impossible. It had 50,000 parts and none went together like the badly written instructions said they should. Luckily, Art has more patience than me, along with strong arms so we got the stupid thing put together.

Next the sites said that rats need lots of toys. So I bought toys. All the toys. I couldn't make up my mind, so they all went in the cart. Balls, houses, hammocks, shells, nests, ladders, name it, Mr. Rat had it.

His favorite toy? The cardboard box one of the toys came in.

Then there was food. Everyone has a different opinion about what rats should eat. I went to the New England Wildlife Center and bought some fancy-shmancy rat food that cost $11 for a bag. Apparently, it was made out of rat poison. At least according to Mr. Rat it was. He wouldn't touch it. Back to the pet store for cheapo food. Which he ate begrudgingly. He just wanted bananas and grapes and spaghetti, but if he was hungry enough rat food would do.

I was such a neophyte about rats that I really did a lot of experimenting with poor Mr. Rat, trying out all kinds of things on him until we hit what he liked. I tried letting him loose in my kitchen, but he wanted to go behind the stove, and he didn't like me to stop him. He liked running around in my bathroom, but chewed on the door so he couldn't be alone in there, since it had varnish on it and that wasn't good for him.  He liked the play pen, but just like Calhoun, he would jump out and take off over and over again.

Then all the web sites said that rats need friends. They shouldn't be alone. And you're not just supposed to go to the pet store and pick out any old rats, because apparently pet store rats have can have the plague or something. So off to North Andover to pick out two little friends for Mr. Rat from a rat breeder.

I brought them home and settled them in to a little cage right next to Mr. Rat, where he could get to know them and learn to love his little friends and live happily ever after in their rat commune.

Except Mr. Rat hated the little ones. I mean HATED. With an unholy white-hot passion past all hope of redemption. Hate. Serious, all-consuming, unending hate.

I tried over and over again to introduce them. I switched cages back and forth to get them used to each other scents. I poured perfume over on them to cover their scents. I put them in neutral territories so no one would feel like they had to protect their area.

I only ended up with two terrified little rats and one angry big one.

So, off to Craig's list to find another cage, this one used and already put together, but even bigger than Mr. Rat's, and squeezed it into my tiny condo. Back to the store to buy more toys and more hammocks and more food.

Play time became like a constant version of the "shell game". Mr. Rat couldn't be out of his cage at the same time as the little ones, and my apartment is small, so I had to make sure that one was in the cage while the others were out, and no one's paths crossed.

About four months after Mr. Rat came to live with me, I went on vacation to Las Vegas. I had Art and another a friend check on the rats every morning and every night. While I was gone, Mr. Rat died in his sleep. I felt awful that I wasn't there and he had to die alone. Worse, he had to die with no one around but those little rats that he hated so much.

I just recently found out that Mr. Rat was probably pretty old. He had been returned to the pet store where his "Rat Daddy" rescued him. I like to think that (with the exception of those evil little rats) I made the last few months of his life happy.

Life is a little calmer around here with only one rat cage and two rats, but I do miss him every day.

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