A few years ago we were at the pet shop and this fawn coloured rat was sitting looking forlorn in his cage. You can see expressions on rats, they can show their affection and boredom as well as their anger. He was all alone in a glass fish tank and I got him out to walk around the shop with me. He just squatted on my shoulder. It is a matter of coaxing and not of shoving your hand in the face of a unfamiliar rat. This scares them and can cause them to attack. Which is what the shop staff member discovered when he had reached in to drag out the newly arrived rat, who responded by biting the fleshy part of his hand between his thumb and the first finger. I did feel sympathy for the worker, as well as considering him an idiot for his actions. What bugged me is that they disclosed that the rat would be put down and not in a kind way that night after the shop shut.
The rats skimpy back story was that he was owned by a male child and was no longer wanted. He had been dropped off that day. Rats are excellent pets for children. It teaches them to be gentle in picking them up and how to be a responsible owner in keeping them clean. The pet shop didn’t know his name or how old he was. There was no appreciation that he might feel the loss of being the only rat to a young child compared to a noisy pet shop and surrounded in rats and various other animals. He was a product that was proving to be defunct.
We have had rats a lot in our family over the years. I was terrified of them but hubby who grew up in a bus had always wanted one and I just had to get him one, even though at the time they were not appealing to me. Now, they fascinate me with their little facial expressions and how they move their feet. We had not had any for a while as we had so many cats making the chances of their survival slim and it restricted how often the rat could come out and just wander free. Our cats were always at the ready for a pounce.
We bought him home with us. We had lots of left over cages to choose for him and he settled in quite well. He has never bitten either of us but I know that he didn’t get as much cuddles as he would have with the young boy or if we had less cats. The most interaction was when I cleaned his cage and he would help me push out the wet stuff from where he had piled it and we might tussle over the stale piece of bread that he was sure should remain in his nest.
Hubby named him Jaws because of his attack on the shop staff member but he never really lived up to his name sake. He was thoroughly interested in the world around him and comes running when we said his name. I wanted to write his story because he is dying and my heart hurts. Rats live such a short time but for me they have enough time to twine themselves in my heart and the wrench at their loss is horrendous. They are quite ancient above 2 years of age and Jaws must be hitting near 3.
I am so sad that he didn’t get the time and attention that he should have. I used to assuage my guilt by reminding myself that he would not have had any life without us. So the best I can say is he has life. He had his favourite foods like mashed potatoes, hot chips or salt ‘n’ vinegar chips and would turn his nose up at sweeter foods, like desert baby food. Much to hubby’s frustration since he bought the baby food as a treat.
Watching his last days and knowing from experience that he is down to days makes me consider death itself and the rituals associated with it. I am always amazed at how we can “saintify” the dead. As amazing as the deceased person was, were they truly a saint? I wonder if it is a combination of societal expectation for funeral behavior and also a way of assuaging our guilt in relation to that person. For example, did we go and see them prior to their final decline? or did we actually like them or are we attending because we felt we ought to? or even, did we know them? I have done it myself, often omitting the stories that didn’t have the deceased in their best light but might have defined our relationship better than the positive – only tales.
My favourite part of any funeral is the stories about the deceased that in their sharing more of them and their relationships. So I guess this is my eulogy to Jaws, prior to his death and in part because I want to remember his life rather than staying in the sadness of his current state. he is a truly wonderful family member who thrived in the chaos of a house full of cats and bought me many hours of joy.