Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Rat

I never mentioned The Rat, did I? Well, I've got a pet rat. We've had her for a bit over a year, but it looks like she's on her way out. R had noticed that she seemed a little clumsy recently, and this morning she presented with a pronounced lean and left-sided weakness. She fell over eating a peanut.

The Rat was originally part of the behavioral experiments done by the IB Biology students at the school where I was teaching, during the downtime at the end of the school year. Most of the rats, mice, and hamsters were taken home by the students in their respective groups, but the teacher made it clear that he would take any of the critters that needed a home after the project. He wound up with seven or eight, and even though he had five animal-loving kids at home, I thought I might adopt one. I'd been checking up on them after school went out, making sure they had enough food and water, and clearly had developed a soft spot for them.

I wound up taking home a black and white one who spent most of her time hanging out in a little woven basket inside her terrarium. R thought we should name her Skunk, after the little skunk-like stripe on her back, but the name never took and she wound up just The Rat.

In the beginning, The Rat was terrified of everything. We'd open the cage and she's freeze. Holding her left her quaking in terror, though she would make prodigious leaps to get back into her cage whenever she could see it. Getting her to take treats from our hand, even while she was safely in her cage, was clearly a major ordeal.

Eventually, we just started leaving her in her cage and handling her as little as possible. We'd give her treats, but mostly we just left her alone. Oddly enough, that seemed to be just what she needed, and she slowly became more confident and adventurous. She stopped shaking uncontrollably when touched and came up to us when we opened the cage door to give her treats. She was no longer contented with just looking out of the holes she had chewed in her cage, and we started waking up in the middle of the night to find her sitting on top of her cage.

In the end, we accepted that she would never be one of those rats who sit on your shoulder or hang out in your pocket. We bought her a three tiered metal cage and were contented to watch her climb around and organize her possessions. We'd put heels of bread and veggie scraps on the top tier of her cage, just to watch her drag them down to the bottom, into the corner where she ate. She would skitter over whenever we were near the cage, in hopes of a peanut.

She was full grown when we got her, so we didn't know how much time she had left. She seems to have enjoyed her retirement. She was an interesting little critter, and has definitely opened the door for future pet rats, once the baby is older and ready.

No comments: