A Ratty Brotherhood

by Katy

I had just lost my first rat, Scabbers, after only having him for one month. I was devastated, and he was so young. I longed to have a connection with a pet rat again. I had read an ad online about dumbo rats being ready for sale at a very nice pet shop an hour and a half away. My sister, friend, and I went to the pet shop, despite there being a snow storm expected for that night. I went to the shop, and I fell in love with 2 male dumbo rats (brothers), 1 month old. One was a runt and one was a little bigger. On the ride home, they snuggled together in a small bowl. They were so tiny! I decided to name the larger rat Shaggy, and the smaller one Scooby.

As they grew, they surprised me with their love for each other and for me. I kept expecting them to start showing aggression towards each other as they got older, but they only played and cuddled together. They had very different personalities. Shaggy was more adventurous and nervous, and Scooby was more cuddly and relaxed. When they got to be 10 months old, Shaggy was developed a URI. Antibiotics didn’t seem to be helping, so we started breathing treatments with albuterol.

After 7 months of the breathing treatments, Shaggy developed a corneal ulcer. He lost his appetite, became lethargic, and was having a hard time breathing. He had no quality of life and I made the appointment for euthanization. The last morning they had together, Scooby kept trying to play with him, but Shaggy no longer had the energy to do so. It was so sad to watch =( I brought them both to the vet together in their cage, so they could spend as much time together as possible. They snuggled the whole way there.

At the vets office, they gave me 2 options: give Shaggy a shot to begin the process while he was still awake, or give him gas to make him fall asleep and then give him the shot to finally finish the process. The first option caused some pain and panic, and the second option I could not be with him, because I was pregnant & the gas was dangerous to pregnant/breast feeding women. My emotions took over and told me that he NEEDED me to be there. I regret the decision to choose the first option now & I know that the priority in these types of situations is comfort and quality of life/death. That morning Shaggy died in my hands and was lain down to rest in our pet cemetery underneath an apple tree, overlooking a mountain range.

I was overcome with grief for Shaggy, but I was worried about Scooby. They had been so close, and now Scooby was alone. I didn’t want to get another rat for many reasons. They may not get along, I might not be able to handle the extra responsibility with the baby on the way, and of course, the heartbreak of watching a rat go through the health problems that rats are bound to go through. I kept expecting Scooby to go downhill from loneliness without the company of another rat, but he was surprisingly content with just my company.

2 months later, I welcomed my son into the world, and a month after that, I started nursing school. Needless to say, life got busy. But during my hours of studying, Scooby played and snuggled in the blankets or on my lap, and occasionaly stole some of my homework. He loved when I brought him in blueberries/banana slice and enjoyed when I rubbed the back of his neck. I believe he was leading a very happy and healthy life.

It wasn’t until he was about 2 1/2 years old, that I started noticing that he was walking funny. I looked it up online, and had come to the conclusion that he was developing hind leg degeneration. Although it was hard for me to watch him hobble around, I knew there was nothing I could do about it and that he could still have a good quality of life. 2 weeks later, I got him out of his cage and I noticed something was just off. He felt lighter and he just didn’t look right. I looked him over and found a lump on his throat. I made an appointment for the vet scheduled 2 days later. The next morning, I noticed the lump had gotten bigger over night, and the evening when I returned home, it had gotten even bigger. He was still himself, not lethargic in the least, but he was having trouble swallowing foods that were not pureed. I got up every 2 hours that night to feed him some pureed bananas/egg yolks.

When we got him to the vet, she told us that she wasn’t sure what it was, but she thought it might be an infection. She gave us the option to treat it with antibiotics, but she wasn’t sure it would work since he was compromised with weight loss. I made the decision to euthanize him before he was completely miserable. The vet gave me the same choices as before, and, again, I could not be in the room if I chose the gas, because I was still breastfeeding. This time, I made the right decision, the most humane decision. The last 10 minutes before they began the procedure, Scooby laid down in my hands, and calmly let me rub the back of his neck, like he has always enjoyed. The fact that he did this instead of trying to explore his new environment felt like he was telling me, “It’s okay, Mom. I’m ready to go.”

They put him in the gas chamber and turned on the gas. He just curled up and took nap. It’s like he knew exactly what was happening. After they confirmed he was completely out, they gave him the shot, which completed the process. We put him a rat sized box with some purple and yellow flowers, and laid him to rest a few feet from where his brother is. I’m not sure there is an afterlife, but I really do hope there is so that Scooby and Shaggy can be reunited once again.

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