Darwin. The Life, The Loss, The Legend

by Bethany
(Bristol, UK)

Last October I bought my first two rats, a top-eared Russian Blue who I called Darwin, and a Dumbo Russian Silver called Percy. Straight away I realised I had conflicting personalities in my new baby boys. Percy was quiet, timid and very cautious of everything around him. He would always let Darwin inspect anything new that came their way. Darwin was adventurous, curious and very entertaining and cheeky. Surprisingly after a few months it became apparent that Percy was actually the dominant male in this bromance.

They had the usual lives, sleeping in a cage all day next to my bed, they had company every evening and came out for an hour of playtime every night. I rat-proofed the bathroom so they had the run of it, cardboard boxes, tunnels, wheels, the lot! Percy tended to spend 80% of his free time in a large cardboard box, on,y venturing out to have a quick check of his territory and the occasional treat before scampering back into safety. Darwin on the other hand, was the opposite, spending each precious second out of the cage climbing into the bin, jumping onto the toilet seat and generLly causing mischief. I would sit with them for the whole hour with Darwin climbing up my jumper and inside my trouser legs and causing a ruckus. It was all very amusing.

About three or four months ago, I started spending 3 nights a week away from home, and when I was away my family looked after the rats. My younger sister would sit with them during playtime, and my mother would feed them and give them some attention before bed. It was all a rather good life for them, treats, playing outside when the weather was good, even the naughty occasional bit of sugary food for my spoiled little b-ratz.

But that all changed this morning.

I got a phone all whilst I was away from my mother, saying she had been up all night with Darein because he looked near death. My heart sank. My rats are only a year and a half old, they are too young to be behaving like this.

I came home at 10.30am this morning and my world stopped. He was half hanging out of the plastic house they sleep in, as if he had tried to drag himself inside but couldn’t quite make it. His breathing was laboured, sharp and fast, his heart going twenty-to-the-dozen. He had red liquid crusted around his eyes and he was completely limp. I picked him up and he was almost completely lifeless. If it wasn’t for the faint flutter of his sides as he breathed I would have been convicted he was already gone. I wrapped him in a towel and sat, stroking his head (which he would have NEVER allowed me to do , if he could have stopped me he would have). He tried a few times to adjut his position but when he tried to move his Boyd, he could only managed his head and a little weight support on his back legs. Percy was in the cage by me, hopping around and obviously upset and confused as to why Darwin was acting like he was.

I called the vets for an emergeny as it is a Sunday. I’m still getting used to the fact that it all happened this morning. I led Darein on the bed and took a Percy out to say goodbye. Darwin sensed that a Percy was near him and tried to lift his head towards him. Percy kept onto the towel that Darein was in and immediately started to groom him. After a while he stopped and climbed out of the towel, at which point I let him back in the cage. I wrapped Darwin up tightly to stop him getting cold and drove with him in my lap to the vets.

Darwin HATES car journeys. He tried so many times to walk and get up during that car ride but all he could manage to do was lift his head and move it a little before having to stop and breathe again. When I got to the vets, he was exhausted from ll the movements he was having to make. The vet said it would have been basically an animal version of a stroke that he had some point last night. It causes most of his motor skills to fail, his heart to beat rapidly and the rat I once knew as a bouncy, loving animal was now severely brain damaged. I signed the consent form and said a goodbye that was far too brief and they took him to be euthanised. It never really hit me harder than when the vet actually took him from my arms. That’s when it hit me that I was never going to see him again.

I got home afterwards, and I can think about nothing but my darling Percy. I had to open the burial box with Darwin inside and show it to him, and he actually tried to climb inside the box with his body. He got out and sniffed it a few times more before I put it away. I wrote goodbyes from both Me and Oercy on his box before burying it in the garden next to my old dog, Paddy.

I feel so sorry for Percy. I’m sure he knows what’s happened, Rats aren’t stupid as people think. He saw Darwin get sick, he saw me take him away, and he saw Darwin when he was no longer alive. He has lost a brother. The worst part? He’s nearly two years old now, I can’t introduce him to a new cage mate because A) I am NEVER getting any more rats and B) If I keep bringing in new rats every time one gets old then I will have rats until the day I die. I know what I will do is just be there for him as much as I can and we can hopefully get through Darwins sudden death together. He will get two hours of playtime every night and I will start taking him out of the cage during the day to be played with, groom and sleep and just have company. I know that the worst part is over.

As I write this, Percy and I are in the bathroom together, he is looking for Darwin, calling out to him. I keep expecting Darwin to suddenly pop out from behind the sink or leap onto my back and scare me as if it was just some big Darwin moment. But he’s gone, we both know that.

My Percy is the only thing that matters to me now, but we will never forget the big ball of fluff in our lives that was Darwin. May he rest in peace.

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