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"What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee."

Ah, my Tybalt, my own personal bodyguard, a fierce heart in a small body. How I will miss the Good King of Cats. Never have I seen a rat with more affection for human beings, matched only by his indifference at best, and at worst, loathing for other rats. This is what comes of keeping a rat by himself, particularly in his first six months of life, when he either learns or does not learn how to be a rat from other rats. It’s an absolute crime, the emotional damage it does to them to be kept solitarily. It gets so that they live only for you and only exist in the fullness of their personalities when interacting with you, which means they spend the vast majority of their days and nights virtually catatonic–or manically frustrated. This is called psychotic dependency in humans–I call it something akin to torture to do it to a rat.

Tybalt did take on a more sanguine approach in his later years toward his cage mates, particularly after he was neutered, and especially toward the end, when I moved him in with the girls to avoid open conflict with his own personal Mercutio,  Young Arthur, who has really come into his own recently as the dominant buck. Tybalt never had any interest in politics. He just wanted to be left the hell alone. Or to be with me. He was jealous of the dogs and puffed and hissed if they tried to get into my lap when he sat on my shoulder. Willow, the Siamese cat, lived in mortal dread of his vicious bite if her nose came too close to his. I do think he could have taken them all in a fair fight. And if you’ve read his profile, you know what murderizing he has done to thieving little mousies that made the fatal error of venturing into his sphere of influence!

But of all the rats in the colony, Tybalt was the most loving and patient with me. He willingly sat on my shoulder, nested in my lap, burrowed under my hoodie on chilly nights, or curled up under my chin for hours at a time, for all the world looking as though he were enjoying a night of beer/pizza/telly. He was partial to British programming–seemed to particularly enjoy Downton Abbey but absolutely loathed Daleks, with their incessant robotic screaming of that horrid word: “EX-TERMINATE! EX-TERMINATE!” Tybalt was not a fan of Dr. Who.

I forgave him that, though, as he was so endlessly willing to submit to “fur therapy,” allowing me to stroke his shiny, silky-smooth fur and tickle his ears for lengthy periods of time almost as a form of meditation, until the cares of the world seemed to slide off my shoulders and I began to feel human again. I thought only stiff martinis had that effect at the end of the day, but there you are: a little rattie love is something to value. I’ll miss Tybs most at the end of long days of editing and teaching, the primary tasks of which my days are constructed. That’s a round-about way of saying I’ll miss this saucy boy every day.

When I got Tybalt, he was in a sorry state. He bounced back into a remarkable health very quickly once on a good diet and after the lice and fleas had been dispatched. Lots of rats are cute, but Tybalt was downright handsome. He was a handsome beast, the James Bond of rattitude, moving through the world in his tuxedo pelt with attractive, impervious disdain and a barely concealed taste for violence. In the end, Young Arthur, sadder but wiser, left the supreme ratcatcher well alone.

When Tybalt’s end came, it came quickly. And thank goodness for that. He seemed to suffer a seizure of some sort while I was holding him one evening last week. There were no symptoms of a stroke when the seizure let up, but he had a massive post-ictal hunger and thirst. He did better after he ate, too, which I found mysterious. My good vet friend, Jenny, was the first to localize the problem to the pancreas, rather than some sort of brain injury, saying that pancreatic disturbances can lead to seizures. She wondered about diabetes. Sczepanski, the wonder vet, fingered hypoglycemia as the likely candidate, probably brought on by a fast-growing pancreatic tumor. I am waiting for a necropsy report will settle the matter.

Be that as it may, Tybs had his first seizure that I know of at about midnight, suffered more closely clustered seizures throughout the night, and was clearly ready to be done with it by sunrise. Choosing to euthanize was no choice at all. It was raining cats and dogs as we left the house, which seemed right somehow. Tybalt and I shared a chocolate milkshake in the car on the way to the vets, and he went under in throws of ecstasy at being stroked and petted and made much of and with a tummy full of chocolate ice cream .

Tybalt. Was ever a rat more properly named? Zounds, he was indeed “a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat to scratch a man to death! A braggart, a rogue, a villain that fights by the book of arithmetic!” He was at the vortex of every fight; never, EVER forgave a slight; and nearly tore the lungs out of any young pup who failed to respect his solitute. He was the very devil, and a complete love, and I shall miss him terribly.

DO NOT KEEP RATS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT. Rats are social creatures that live in large extended families in the wild. They must have the companionship and physical comfort of other rats, or their minds break and they become sociopaths. Tybalt is a case in point. And that’s it. That’s all there is to it. Poor lonely boy. He will be sorely missed.

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