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Our Hero

Ah, the heartache of chew toys. The edible hut or tunnel is chewed to bits in an evening, and what’s left smells like rat piddle for the rest of its days. The extra-special and extra-pricey genuine apple wood chew sticks and other posh solutions are unceremoniously ignored.

But not so one’s angora sweater, which one oh-so-foolishly hung on the back of the door next to the rattie cage and then swung open on one’s way to class, dangling the sweater a tantalizing four inches from our wily, resourceful friends. That, dear readers, was a sad, sad day, requiring many a shot of better than average bourbon to take the edge off of one’s grief.

Alas, neither let us not dwell on the fate of the research paper that foolishly came to rest on top of the cage “just for a minute” when the bed and desk were too covered with books to afford it room. Oh, the horror, the humanity….well, anyway, what a mess. Makes them really hard to grade, too, sorting through all those little drifts of literary toil. Got a rat? Then you’ve got a document shredder.

The truth remains: rats will chew something. They must. Whenever possible, it will be something not created for that purpose. Often it is something weird–the mystery lipstick and the hand spade incidents come to mind.  Occasionally it is something dangerous–an electrical cord, a toxic plant, sub-standard paint from the cage bars: the mind reels.

Our only hope to avert disaster is to jump into the fray and provide ample options for chewing that, though intentionally “placed” by us, do not broadcast our hidden agendas. Rats resent being “managed” and perversely refuse to cooperate whenever they detect mendacity or condescension. I’m convinced of it.

If you doubt it, try taking a rat’s picture. She’ll sit there posing for you oh so prettily and nibbling daintily on the cream cheese you are using to keep her still, and then ZOOM, just as you snap the photo, she’s off like the blur that will be your picture.

Yes, the task of engaging a rat in a productive activity is very much akin to sneaking vegetables into recipes when preparing food for kids.

Or like my Mamaw’s “tricky sandwiches.” That sainted woman, who wouldn’t tell a lie to save a kitten’s life, perpetrated gross fraud on generations of grandchildren by turning the heel slice of a loaf of bread inside out when making peanut butter sandwiches, so that her victims wouldn’t know they’d been handed a sandwich that was, quite literally, ALL CRUST! Monstrous. I suppose living through a depression will do things like that to your character.

So right. Angora sweaters aside, you can spend a fortune on chew toys, only to have your little darlings destroy them utterly in a night, or worse yet, ignore them altogether and turn their attention in destructive directions. The trick is to place things in their paths that are interesting, in and of themselves, but to do it nonchalantly, as though you couldn’t care less whether your rats find the objects engaging and decide to chew on them or no. Rats like to chew on interesting things, things that pose questions and present a challenge. They love to puzzle over objects: What is this marvelous thing? Does it smell funny? Where has it been? How might it feel between my teeth if I take a little nibble just so? Can I take it away from Violet without her beating the crud out of me?

These are interesting questions to a rat.

I once had a rat who needed, for reasons both diplomatic and expeditious, to live alone for a period of time, to lay low, as it were. To keep him occupied and stimulated while I was away, I would place things on or near his cage on purpose–a head of lettuce from the garden, a cardboard shoe box, an entire hard-shelled winter squash, a deflated leather basketball, a full-sized bath towel. How the little devil managed to get these items through those skinny bars and chew them to smithereens in the time it took to teach a two hour college course is beyond me. He was so busy with his demolition tasks that he gave up, altogether, his heretofore favorite pass-time of baiting my dogs and then biting their noses viciously through the bars. Eventually, the dogs no longer found him to be interesting, either, and went off to torment the cat.

But at last, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! Best chew toy ever. No more $20 wooden houses to piddle on or oh-so-precious prissy-ass chews to ignore. The cow hoof has arrived, providing a solution both elegant and economical. Cow hooves, designed as dog chews, are tough, no-toxic, small enough to be carried around and scuffled over, cannot enter or leave the cage without your direct assistance, and can be washed in hot soapy water. And best of all, they smell interesting.

Hell, they smell fascinating! At least to a rat.

Cow hooves last forever. And when the rats start to get a little bored with their hooves, I switch the boys’ hoof to the girls’ cage, and vice versa. Diabolical! Tricky! Mamaw would be so proud. Those hooves become interesting all over again, redolent of mystery, danger, and the opposite sex. Rats who’ve never showed the slightest interest in chewing anything but water bottles and suede jackets suddenly become worshipers of the sacred cow. All night long, I hear my ratties gnashing away at their beloved hooves. That distinctive sound, along with the soft whisper of a Wobust Wodent Wheel wotating through the night, makes up my lullaby. Less squabbling, more peaceable and cooperative chewing–it’s heaven.

My dear cows, trust me: your sacrifice has not been in vain. “It is a far, far better thing that you do, than you have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that you go to than you have ever known.”

Bovine, I salute you.