And then there were none…

After seven years of living with rats I am now rat free. It is the end of an era that has had blindingly bright times of sheer joy and dark moments of despair and it’s been wonderful.

My first pair of rats were Fen and Ella – they were greedy and lazy and their hobby was sitting on the window sill and eating my curtains. They died within a few weeks of each other after developing fast growing and massive tumours.

I realised then that, painful as though it was when they died, it wasn’t time to let go of rats completely and so Annie and Alice came into my life.

Annie and Alice had sight problems and it was a very fast learning curve with them. Some rats with sight problems will let you handle them eventually but not those girls. Alice would often bite right through to the bone just because my hand was in the cage putting food in there. I handled them very little but, on the separate days they both visited the vet to be put to sleep (bloody tumours again), they both sat on my shoulder as I talked to the vet. They didn’t like being handled, they couldn’t really see me but they knew who I was. Joy in such sad moments.

Suse was with me only a few weeks. Right from the start she decided she didn’t like me and refused to share space with Annie and Alice (by this time I was on the way to owning two pairs of rats at the same time) so she had to be rehomed. She took well to her new owner and she had a long (for a rat) and happy life.

Shortly after Suse moved out I was introduced to some Sphynx rats – hairless. People who don’t like rats don’t like these even more but there is no greater pleasure than the warm feel of their skin and the soft way it yields when you kiss them. Cleo and Patra turned me from being a rat lover into a rat adorer. Patra, completely bald except for her whiskers, was bullied by Cleo and so they had separate cages. She had a skin infection and died at a year old (about average for a bald rat) and I felt truly heart broken when she died as I did six months later when Cleo died of extreme old age.I really miss Patra even now. She was a mummy’s girl who like nothing better than snuggling up for a nap whenever she could.

Honey came into my life about half way through having Cleo and Patra. She was a white dumbo with the most ridiculous personality and she was sharing the cage in the pet shop with a very timid rat. I took her home and though she settled in well she was less bouncy than she had been and, it transpired, the rat she’d been sharing the cage with was pining for her. So Sugar came to live with me and it turned out that she had such severe sight problems she had virtually no sight. I couldn’t handle her because of the bites but the day she died the vet gave her just enough gas so that I could hold her as she drifted off. I cried with joy as I held her for the first time and with pain as the first time was also the last time in her 28 months of life.

Roy and Rob were both troubled rats. Rob was so aggressive it was unbelievable. He didn’t bite when I put food in the cage or stand back until it was in place he would throw himself at me and attack. The bites were so bad I had to use gardening gloves just to fill up their food bowl! He had a massive fit one morning at it killed him so I think both he and Roy were far too inbred for their own good.

I got Roy a companion, Stuart, who Roy bullied almost as badly as Rob bullied him so I took him to be castrated so that he could live with Honey and Sugar. Poor Stuart died on the operating table and so our time together was very short. I adored him. You shouldn’t have favourites but you do; there is always one that gets under your skin and Roy was one of them.

I fell in love with Pansy and Poppy as soon as I met them. They were the stereotype pet rats. Playful, cheeky and loving. They both developed lumps at a year old and, while Poppy recovered well from surgery, Poppy’s lump grew back almost immediately. It would have been possible to remove it again the odds that it would grow back again were just too high and it was a big decision to let her go. She was actually reasonably healthy except for the recurring lumps and I had to weigh up what was best for her in the long run.

George and Kevin were temporary lodgers as it turned out and stayed just a few months. It became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to look after them if I needed to look after me and so they went to a mouse rescue who rehomed them a week later and they’re blissfully happy in their forever home.

I took Poppy to the vet yesterday and said my goodbyes. She was 30 months old which is elderly in rat terms. She’d not been eating or drinking properly in recent weeks, there was increasing drops of blood were she’d been sitting, she could no longer use the top half of her cage and she was slowing down at an alarming rate. She was still cheeky and continue to boggle and brux when I held her but she was winding down and almost at the point where pain would take over and her dignity would disappear.

Tom, the vet, let me have a few minutes alone with her yesterdays as he got the paperwork ready. I told her, as I told all my animals when we get to this point, that I loved her, that I would always love her and that I would never forget her. She looked at me bruxing and boggling and I found it hard to let her go even though I knew it was the right time for her even if it would never be the right time for me.

So my home and life is now ratless and I couldn’t be more unhappy about it.