Dovey Goes Retail!


Front Design

With all the cool design software floating around out there, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Dovey got bored and started messing around with t-shirt design–initially creating an oblique tarantula/country music crossover in-joke t-shirt…I know, right?

Very quickly, however, I realized how awesome it would be to have a decent big cotton tote to keep ratty bedding in. It currently feels like my whole apartment is slowly being taken over by loose fluffy beds and crinkly hammocks and God knows how many scraps of old t-shirt squares. And since these are all about bed time and sleeping, I put together a little tote bag with sweet sleepy rat pictures. If you like the basic design idea, you can put it on other merchandise on the site, as well. I’m pleased that the entire project comes in under $20.

Cards on the table, I picked this site because they had the best cool, natural plus size t-shirts. The days when I will put up with clingy, ridey-up T-shirts are officially over. Those fashion nightmares are now ratty bedding.

Funny thing, designing stuff is completely contagious. I now find myself wishing this site I chose had more non-apparel merchandise to play around with.

Anyway, I think the bag’s pretty cute and certainly will be useful. The site is called Customized Girl, and my storefront is, not surprisingly, Dovetail Designs. Here’s the link if you’d like to look at a couple of other designs:

What do you think? I’d value your honest opinion! Oh, and if you feel compelled to order a Night-Night Ratty bag of your very own, rest assured that the entirety of my wee small royalties will go toward the Dovetail rat rescue mission. So yay, feel great while doing good. : -)


Back design close-up showing color and texture of natural cotton shopping bag. I love its slubbiness!

Back in the Saddle at the Ranch School!

And here we are, living just outside Sedona, AZ, one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

If you’ve never been to Northern Arizona, you are missing a serious national treasure. Sure, the Grand Canyon is breathtaking, but there is just so much more to explore in this virtually empty end of the state. I consider myself one of the luckiest pet owners in America, in that the route to my vet’s office now takes me through a beautiful barren desert scrub and forested landscape of hills, plateaus and table mountains, and volcanic remnants on a winding two-lane highway that any automobile TV commercial director would kill to use as a filming location. It’s just a breathtaking vista and so calming. I can feel my blood pressure dropping as I drive along.

And speaking of veterinarians, if you need a rat vet anywhere in the Sedona or Flagstaff area, I would highly recommend Dr. Rachel Jarvis at Bell Rock Veterinary Clinic in Sedona. She runs an old-fashioned one vet practice, and she is willing to accept drop-off appointments, make house calls if necessary, or see your pet at odd hours in an emergency–services almost unheard of in today’s veterinary practice. And she’s up to the minute on exotics and small pet practice. She also treats herps, which is awesome for those of us who also have snakes and lizards and so forth. Now, I just wish she’d agree to see my koi!

Anyway, I was in to see her today because, as the “big girls” dorm advisor, I’ve moved into a new dorm apartment at the ranch school where I’m working, and the room is a lot breezier than my last little space. All of the girls have the sniffles, and Camellia has rales in her chest pretty significantly. I’ve been treating with Baytril, but I’ve decided to go back on doxycycline medicine balls, a daily medical supplement I moved away from when doxycycline got so ridiculously expensive. It’s down to a reasonable price again, so we’re back in the Doxie peanut butter ball business!

Nothing sadder than rats with the sniffles, since they use their sense of smell so much to get around in this life. Honestly, I’m pretty sure Camellia is blind, or nearly so, and always has been. You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but I see her using her ears to triangulate my location as she follows me around the room rather than tracking me visually. I’ve only ever seen that head motion in blind rats. Doesn’t bother her a bit, though.


Living Close to the Bone 1


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As I am malingering in graduate school while the nation malingers in what is regularly referred to in print now as “The Great Recession,” perhaps it’s time to share a few money-saving tips with fellow rat lovers. Even more so than usual, your comments and tips are welcome! A penny saved is a Yogie earned.

Tip number one is actually a shopping referral to, a very good place to get Oxbow Regal Rat in great big bags at significant savings. I know, spend money to save money….

Enter the discount code GJDX7774 , and receive an additional 25% off your purchase courtesy of yours truly.

More crucially, this site’s free shipping purchase requirements are much lower than a lot of online pet food retailers. I buy two 20 pound bags, and get free shipping. Hard to find free shipping on 40 pounds of food anymore.

Regal rat is pricey, but trust me, completely worth it. The smaller size of each piece (compared to traditional lab block) lends itself to less waste through crumbling and misplaced caches. A partially-eaten block lost in the bedding is a rare occurance with the smaller sized pieces of yummy RR. My guys actually dislike Oxbow’s Young Rat and Mouse Food, which has a higher protein content–but they will fight over the adult rat mixture. It is full of good-for-you ingredients and has a mild sort of salmony seafood smell to it that sends most ratties into paroxysms of joy.

And in these hard times, who couldn’t use a little extra joy?

Happy Easter Bunny-Rats! A Bumper Crop of Sebastian Babies available 3/30/2013!

Baby Hotspur Photo

At last, at last! I’ve been trying for a litter out of the fabulously handsome Sebastian for two years now but was beginning to believe he might be what we euphemistically refer to in the South as “sensitive”, i.e., homosexual. Nope, not gay – just picky. When introduced to Marigold, a lovely little cinnamon doe with sparkling ruby-red eyes, he was instantly smitten. And what a litter! Thirteen bumptious baby bunny-rats, all dumbo-eared, with just about every color of the rainbow and variety of markings, even one little Harry Potter with a lightning bolt on his forehead. What a smashing litter! What a wealth of adorable, well-formed little youngsters. I’ll post more photos as I manage to collect them.

If you’d like to be considered as an adoptive parent for a pair of these little guys, contact me via the website at Include a bit about your circumstances and history with rats (if any), as well as your plans for appropriately caging these wee tim’rous beasties. Babies only go in pairs or trios, of course, since a lone rat is a miserable rat, and babies can never, ever be used as breeders or feeders. As is also always the case, babies are guaranteed: if they don’t work out, you can bring them back. If you want to be on the list, jump to it. I’m already receiving inquiries from locals, but I am willing to hold babies with payment for blog subscribers who may need a little time to arrange pick up for their babies.

More photos to come!

Rat Heros Sniff Out Explosives in Columbia


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It’s cage-cleaning day here in the truly disreputable “I’m wintering in Phoenix” Vintage Frolic. Good fences may make good neighbors, but clean bedding makes good travel trailer roomies.

Meanwhile, look what I ran across. Here’s an awesome clip from CNN about rats trained to detect landmines in Columbia:

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Oh, how very cool. Well done, ratties!

Right. Back to freshening the Frolic.

Who’s Queen?! A Rat-sized Elizabethan Collar That Actually Works


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I’ll say this for Bluebell: she’s absolutely irrepressible. When it comes to getting a job done that she thinks needs doing, Bluebell’s motto is “never say die!”

An unhappy but fashionable post-surgical Bluebell

As luck would have it, Bluebell the Poubelle (French for trash can) managed to require a rattie boob job on our trip out West! I feared tumors, but in fact, three of her mammary glands were responding to a nearby nursing mother rat’s hormones and developing milk without Bluebell actually having a littler of her own. This is a real problem, as it can lead to mastitis, nasty milk infections you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. So out those glands had to come. In future, I’ll keep nursing mothers well away from non-lactating females in order to keep the latter firmly in that category!

Happily, we were able to locate a nearby vet who treats rats and knows what he’s doing. This is never an easy task (see blog post “Paging Dr. Doolittle”), and we were lucky to find Dr. Cohen – AND to find that he isn’t half way to Tucson, but only a few miles hense. Huzzah!

The surgery was a snap. The recovery process was hell. Bluebell is not a fan of surgical glue, it seems, and had managed to trim all of hers off of two separate incisions within hours of coming out of surgery, thus completely opening up her wounds. Gross.

After this has happened, you can kiss all hope of a sterile incision goodbye, so it’s a bit iffy to close that wound back up, assuming that you can keep it that way when the patient is hell-bent on removing all glue or stitching and has razor-sharp surgical tools for teeth and bodily flexibility a cat would envy. Plan B was to just leave her alone and hope the wounds would close on their own in short order, an event that often happens due to rats’ high metabolic rate. They really do heal from most injuries amazingly fast.

Not this time, though. Two days later, Bluebell’s surgical sites still looked ragged and gaping, and it was time for plan C. The good doc stitched her up internally this time, and his brilliantly clever vet tech rigged up the above pictured Elizabethan collar to keep the Poubelle on the straight an narrow…or at least give her something more worrying to keep her occupied while her stitches set and healed.

Apparently, the device was  fashioned from the narrowing end of a large syringe cover, with the point of contact covered with cloth medical tape to prevent chaffing and discourage her from being able to get her claws under it. The brilliance of the thing lies in the rat’s tendency to PUSH against the cage bars in an attempt to slide the collar over her body and off the back, rather than primarily to PULL at it to get it off. Which, of course, pushes the collar back into place against her shoulders and undoes any progress she may have made in getting it over her ears and head. The tough plastic stood up to a week’s worth of scratching and was simply perfect in keeping her away from her stitches!

She did, of course, develop a full compliment of the expected complications as a result of the lost sterility, hefty seromas (buildup of fluid under the surgical site) that required draining and a small area of abscess. When the abscess opened a section of the stitches again, I just rinsed out the cavity with sterile saline, packed it full of granulated sugar, and hit Bluebell with a round of Batril to prevent systemic infection.

Belly-rat didn’t like the collar one bit, and she never gave up trying to rid herself of it. But she did simmer down after a few days into what was probably as close to resignation as Bluebell will ever come. I spent as much time as I could comforting and petting and making much of her and did quite a bit of hand-feeding since the collar limited her range of movement for eating.  She lost some weight, but could more than afford to, having gotten a bit chunky of late. After a week, we gently removed the collar and allowed such licking as she elected to do in response to what remained of the abscess. It’s been a slow recovery, as her wounds were truly raw and gaping, but she’ll only have a small scar under one arm and none at all under the other.

I highly recommend the Elizabethan for particularly tenacious post-surgical rats. Why doesn’t someone manufacture these things? Huzzah for the excellent vet techs out there who, like Miss Poubelle, never say die!

Start Planning Now: April 4th is World Rat Day!


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It’ll be here before you know it. April 4th is World Rat Day, a day for celebrating the rat for the marvelous animal that it is and whipping up some PR around how many people actually keep and adore pet rats.

Throw a rat themed cocktail party with a “B.Y.O. Rat” on the invitation. Give a specified donation to the Humane Society for the upkeep of homeless rats that have fallen on hard times. At the very least, make it a goal to bring the fact of your rat fandom out from the shadows for all the world, or at least a few select friends and colleagues, to know.

Think of it as International Rat Lovers Coming Out Day.


Oh man, I am so totally doing that….



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Oh dear, what can the matter be? I’ll tell you what the matter bloody well is: Squill is a blasted Houdini, that’s what the matter is! Damn my eyes if the little hussy didn’t find a way to squidge through the bars, cross the chaotic no-mans land that is my bedroom at present, dodge two homicidal fox terriers and a sociopathic Siamese cat, and settle in for a nice night of the old foopah-foopah in the boys’ cage. And after all the sermonizing I’ve done to other rat owners who find themselves in this position! I’ll be eating crow well into the next decade.

Squill's accidental litter: how the MIGHTY SMUG have fallen!

It’s just more than a body can bear. Twelve healthy pups – for that I was grateful, and I found good homes for all but a pair of females I’ll probably be able to place in Arizona while I’m home visiting the folks. For that I am also grateful. And I learned a boatload about rattie prenatal and neonate care and feeding. Frankly, it was a blast to raise the litter and a real kick in the head to have little ratlets running around all over the place like wee wind-up mousies.

And just when I was down to a tiny population in the girlies’ colony, I have three charming Russian blue and white cuties, to be introduced in a later post, one of them a rex. It’s been a rough year for rexes at Dovetail, what with the passing of Blossom, Will Shakespeare, and Henslowe within a twelvemonth.

Happily, the paternity was a snap to figure. Half the litter are a pattern of their mother, Squill, and the other half are Russian blue with either stars or blazes, a darker version of my British blue buck, Arthur. He’s the dominant male in the boys’ colony since Will Shakespeare’s demise. Arthur is a handsome fellow, though I think the girls are going to resemble their mother in their classic narrow heads and long snouts. Arthur is more typey, with some chunk to his build and a face and head more akin to a dumbo profile. Either way, the girls are going to be lookers.

But more to the point, and stay tuned for further riffs on this theme, Mea Maxima Freakin’ Culpa. As the Ronco comercial salesman says, “But wait, there’s more!” Stand by for further humiliating revelations….

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures: Chloramhenicol and Pet Rats


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Chloramphenicol is an "ass-kicking" drug in more ways than one. Terms like "Typhoid," "Cholera," and "Staphelococal Brain Abscess" appear prominantly in its indications, as do "Bone Marrow Toxicity" and "Fatal Aplastic Anaema" in its list of possible side say nothing of profound diarrhea. This is not a drug to be messed around with. Wash your hands after dosing your pet, and NO, I am not kidding.

As the old song goes, “Oh dear, what can the matter be?”

Poor Henslowe isn’t doing well. The old ploppy-saurus has wet, soggy, rattling lungs and a pale white nose, and a batril/doxycicline combo doesn’t seem to even be touching it. He’s been worse since the hot, wet weather broke a week ago in favor of cool and very dry, even worse than that this week as it became very hot again, and he’s truly awful today, after yet another shift into cool and wet. He’s looking really bad, and I’m getting desperate.

Time for a shift in strategy. Time to bring out the big guns.


What a difference a day makes. Henslowe is entirely back to normal, which for him is audible breathing only when stressed or inquisitive. In the “rest” position, his breathing is clear as a bell, which is about all one can shoot for with his old, scarred lungs.

His recovery could be due to the decision to blast the room with a heavy hitting humidifier AND my Vicks vaporizer, but I bet is has more to do with shifting to a combination of Aminophylline to open up his airways and Chloramphenicol to hit the mycoplasma from a different direction.

There is nothing scarier for the pet rat fancier than doxycycline/batril non-responsive myco. Nothing. You’re doing everything you know to do, and they just keep getting worse.

I’m determined that if I hadn’t had that chloramphenicol sitting around from a “failed” attempt when Will and Henslowe were sick last fall, the dear old Ploppy would be an ex-rat by this morning. He had that look about him like he was warming up to join the choir angelic, and believe me, I know. This morning I didn’t dare hope his lungs were as clear as they seemed to be, so I turned off the humidifiers and held him right to my ear to listen to his breathing and feel for a rattle under his ribs. Nothing. Breath in and breath out, quiet as you please. I was just blown away with relief.

Chloramphenicol is the first drug I’ve used that came with stern warnings from my vet, quoted right off of a legal disclaimer card. I know, because one of the things she said to me was “this drug cannot be prescribed to animals destined for human consumption.” Right. Note to self: no Henslowe McNuggets after all. I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear it.

We laughed, but she also said–and this was no laughing matter–that this drug can knock out your bone marrow for good and kill you in a rare (but not rare enough) side effect among a list of additional grave unintended outcomes for the dosser, and that hand washing after dosing your pet was essential, as was avoiding pets or kisses to the face after dosing. Dr. C is not a worrier by nature, but I could tell she’d just as soon I used latex gloves during dosing. Wow. For more info on chlorampenicol and toxicity in humans, see

So right, old fatty beat the odds again. Amazing. Myco has had his number since he was a wee thing, yet at 2 1/2 he’s still hogging the hammock. Maybe it was the moist air, maybe the illness had run its course and he was due to feel better anyway (I don’t believe that for a second), or maybe the chloramphenicol nailed the sorry, doxy-impervious asses of the bugs in Henslowe’s lungs, shot them where they stood, right through a sea of choking mucus. I like to think of it that way.

However, remembering just WHY the last attempt with this drug was such a housekeeping catastrophe, I am following up every dose 20 minutes later with a heapin’ spoonful of super-yogurt. A rat with mucho yucky diarrhea is not a fun rat or a happy rat. No kidding, this stuff kills EVERYTHING. Wash your hands and spring for the super-duper Greek yogurt with 5 kinds of bacteria in it.

And if the diarrhea shows up after a day or two, just remind yourself how lucky you are to have this problem, move your poor, mortified rattie into a hospital cage, and change the bedding A LOT. Rats are fastidious creatures, and a rat with diarrhea to track through is going to lose the will to live. A clean rat is a happy, healthy rat. I highly recommend augmenting your rat’s normal cleaning regimen with baby wipes at such times, paying special attention to the areas around and under its tail. A babywipe bath after dosing will also take care of any spilled or spat out medicine, keeping you all the safer from any unwanted side effects from handling the meds.

If you’re over a barrel with other treatments and afraid you’re going to lose your beloved sweetie, you might talk to your vet about chloramphenicol. I don’t think they even prescribe it to humans in this country anymore, or not very often. But it’s legal for pets, and the rabbit people have been getting great results from it. Just…yeah, wash your hands really well, and don’t forget the yogurt. You’re probably going to need it.


Bundesarchiv Bild 183-92279-0002, Ruhrepedemie...

Wash those hands, and don't eat your rat after dosing. I'm just saying.

The Inimitable Will Shakespeare (Send Me on My Way)


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Well, pick me up with golden hands/ oh I may see you, oh I may tell you run/ send me on my way, send me on my way...I'm on my way

A Song for Will Shakespeare:

The vets always say “you’ll know when it’s time,” and sure enough, I know: it’s time.  Will Shakespeare, my dearest sweet Pooh-bear, my very first boy rat, it’s exactly time to send you on your way.

Now that we’re up against it, I’m tallying in my heart the emotional costs of keeping short-lived pets. Two and a half years just isn’t enough time with these smart, loving, awesome little creatures. They nuzzle their way up under your chin and into your heart. I’m not helped by the fact that Will and Henslowe, his litter mate, exhibit the very best temperaments I’ve ever encountered in rats, or any pets. They are just two big old devoted sweeties, no other way to describe them, and utterly irreplaceable.

At present, the aforementioned sweeties are snarfing and snuffing around on the bed as I type, searching out the last wee crumbs from a cinnamon roll mishap earlier in the day. In a bit, they’ll poop out and curl up for a mid-morning nap in the sun, as old gentlemen are want to do. Fat, ploppy old Henslowe, who has more energy than Will does at this point (who would have ever guessed?), will do some licking and grooming on Will as he bruxes off to sleep, and then they’ll both be out for a 20 minute power nap–the only kind rats ever take.

Will developed a lump low on his sternum last November. Thinking it was a rare case of a male mammary tumor, I had it removed–but not biopsied. My cheaper vet charges for that service, and I was flat broke at the time.

Always spring for the biopsy.

Cancer isn’t one disease, but many diseases,  each with it’s own growth patterns, trickery for survival, and susceptibilities to attack. Breeders, researchers, and veterinarians need to know what the domesticated rat is up against and plan their breeding protocols, treatments, and preventative measures accordingly. Without hard empirical data, they can’t do this. Entirely too many pet rat deaths are generically and unhelpfully attributed to “tumor” or “respiratory infection” without the vet or owner ever knowing what kind of tumor or what underlying disease may have led to the stress-triggered pneumonia…and thus the body of knowledge about pet rat health develops no further. This is simply unacceptable.

Will’s tumor was back within a month of his surgery and growing fast. So much for the economy vet route. This time, I took him to the excellent Dr. Sczepanski for Cadillac service and Volvo reliability. In keeping with her “big picture” approach to research, treatment, and her own continuing education, Dr. S. fosters an ongoing relationship with RADIL (Researcgh Animal Diagnostic Laboratory) here at the University of Missouri and thus charges her rat clients nothing for necropsies and biopsies, or whatever it is they call the act of yanking out a tumor and poking at it until it squeals its name.

Sczepanski took one look at Will and furrowed her brow. That really never is a good sign in a doctor’s office, is it? She wanted to schedule a second surgery as quickly as possible and virtually insisted that we send the tumor on to RADIL for identification. The results were about as bad as it gets; but as always, every cloud has a silver lining if you look hard enough for it. Will’s tumor was a fibrosarcoma, a cancer that literally roots into healthy tissue like some kind of terribly invasive tree, making clean surgical borders nearly impossible. But it doesn’t hurt. That’s it, that’s the lining.

Want to hear one of the ugliest sentences ever written? Try this on for size: “It is a well differentiated fibrosarcoma characterized by a proliferation of fibroblasts and with mitotic figures, nuclear variability and extensive local invasion into the surrounding muscle; neoplastic fibroblasts extend to the edges of the mass in all directions.”

Which is lab coat geek-speak for “cue the fat lady.”

At which point, I rallied the troops and put my fabulous friend Jenny, who just happens to be a veterinary oncologist as well as the best pet-sitter in the history of domestication, to the task of researching nonsurgical follow-up protocols. She got back to me with a fistful. It seems fibrosarcomas are hot on the research grant-making circuit just at present.

The coolest study involved a simple metronomic schedule of gentle chemotherapy, but with the fascinating addition of light electro-stim therapy applied once to the site of the tumor. The results were really encouraging. No pain, lots of gain. More than half of the subjects experienced significant shrinkage of the tumor, and all of them had notably slower rates of tumor growth after just one treatment.

Woo-hoo, I thought, every athletic trainer and physiology lab in the country has an electro-stim kit, right? You can’t take two steps on the Mizzou campus without tripping over someone’s electro-stim machine, and there are like four major vet schools within a day’s drive of here. Surely some lab near enough for grace would be repeating this study. Even if Will’s tumor didn’t shrink, he would still gain significant quality time, if we could  just slow down the tumor growth. Unfortunately, the study had only been conducted on dogs, and that was clear down at the University of Georgia.

Well, damn.

Undaunted, we settled for a metronomic protocol of doxycycline and piroxicam (a non-steroidal anti-inflamitory) administered daily in an attempt to thwart the tumor’s ability to develop the necessary blood vessels to feed itself. This treatment is generally used post-surgically to prevent recurrence or metastasization when only a few cells may be present. Starting treatment so far into a tumor’s growth would probably prove fruitless (and so it did), but the doxy would at the very least prevent a mycoplasma flair-up in his lungs in the meantime, and at any rate, the piroxicam would keep his old bones from aching from the added weight-load of the tumor.

The metronomic therapy did everything it was designed to do, but no more than that. Will’s lungs are as clear as a bell, and there’s no sign of metastasization. But nowadays he looks like a Pooh-bear with a naval orange tucked under his arm. Until just a few days ago, he could get around pretty well, and his spirits have never flagged. But now the bloody thing is just too big for his short forelegs. Also, I’ve had to give him  baby-wipe baths the last couple of days, since he can’t reach around that ugly lump to wash himself, and he’s such a fastidious little thing. Dirty and immobile is no way for a rat to live…or anybody else, for that matter.

So it’s certainly time. But it’s hard. The two of them are still toddling around on the bed, and Henslowe looks like he’s going to make a try for the laundry basket by my desk, fully 4 1/2 feet away, which if caught on film might well go viral on Youtube. Imagine a furry black water balloon launching itself across the room. Bansai! Plop.

In a little bit, we’ll have a light lunch of shrimp salad on a bed of greens with honeydew (a house favorite), take a swipe at folding that laundry, and answer some email. Then they’ll take another nap while I dig a hole under the azaleas and choose a vintage hanky big enough to wrap Will Shakespeare in. Then we’ll put on some Rusted Root and sing along to Will’s theme song on the way to the vet, and I’ll suck it up and cope.

Will has had a good life, and he’s brought me great joy all the days of it. He’s done his job, and now it’s time again for me to do mine and send him peacefully on his way. In the immortal words of Julian of Norwich, all shall be well and all  manner of things shall be well. The trick is in keeping your eye on the big picture.

You must listen to Will Shakespeare’s song if you haven’t already. It’ll make you happy. I promise. It’ll change your day for the better, as it has mine.

Bansai Will Shakespeare, you quintessential big ol’ sweetie. Make the leap. Be on your way, and take my heart with you.

Rat Tip #2A: Additional No-fail No-spill Dish Options


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Yep, you guessed it: necessity was once again the mother of invention. A sink full of dirty dishes is an ugly thing when combined with vehement demands for carrot juice emanating from two cages of insistent ratties. And yet sticky orange cages, to say nothing of sticky orange rats, isn’t by any stretch of the imagination “a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.” Yikes! All cigar ashtrays dirty, Arab Spring reenactment imminent…what to do, what to do? A desperate rifling of cabinets produced two alternatives, both of which proved just dandy:


I can’t stand waste and really love these jars, so I go to the trouble of draining residual candle wax and then use these virtually indestructible containers for storage of moth-ish staples, dried beans, a wee bit of leftover sauce or soup, hardware odds and ends, and what have you. I must have a dozen of these sitting around, and somehow there are always more lids than jars.

Great solution for a small number of rats, in this case three does. Pry off the plastic gasket, which shouldn’t be on the menu. Virtually tip-proof. Since the low sides offer little incentive to tilt toward one’s self when lapping and the center of gravity is virtually at ground level, one can’t really tip, anyway, but can only flip. Which isn’t to say they won’t do so. But why should they when there is sweet, golden orange carrot nectar to be lapped up? Perhaps later….


I love how these glass gadgets look, and when my beloved Mamaw’s ca. 1948 glass juicer came up for grabs, I grabbed. Since I also have a super-cool levered juicer that is much more efficient and easier on the wrists, though, Mamaw’s glass juicer collects dust.

Not anymore! Six big bruising boys can belly up to this juice bar without anyone having to cue the pianist to play “Camptown Races,” which never seems to break up bar fights anyway, but only make them even more fun to watch. And speaking of fun to watch, there’s something about my boys shoulder to shoulder while sucking up tasty juices and soups from what looks for all the world like a big rat fountain that makes me laugh. Not that Mamaw would approve. She’d be horrified. But she would, I think, be just ever so slightly more pleased that her old juicer is still seeing some use.

Mamaw, my loathsome vermin thank you from the bottom of their rattie little hearts.

Remembering the Fiery Tybalt


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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.

Rats Off the Hook for the Black Death: Rodents Dancing in the Streets


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Bad Publicity

It must be pingback week here at dovetail, but there you are: these days, rats are surfin’ the zeitgeist.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve suspected all along that the black death was caused by space aliens, and I, for one, am delighted that a major representative of the American media has been the first to establish that as a fact. Rats around the world breathe a sigh of relief.

One last time, folks: IT WAS THE FLEAS, DO YOU HEAR ME, THE FLEAS, NOT THE RATS! Humans ALSO carried fleas from one place to another in this period in history, and rats died of the plague in numbers that blow the human casualty rate right out of the water. So there. Harumph!

Pity the History Channel. How the mighty have fallen….

Edgy Rats


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A Banksy Rat at Work

Ooo ooo! You need to know about this:

Great shots of astonishingly cool work by Banksy,  an artist you need to know. This superkeen blog entry connects to to the artist’s website, which is also really neat. You’ll really like this sort of thing–if this is the sort of thing you like.

Here at Dovetail, we loves us some Banksy.

Banksy anarchist rat in Sloane Square.
Rattie Protest Takes to the Streets

We Must Have Hit the Bigtime!


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Yep, I guess Dovetail has arrived. Someone sent me a link to this little photo composite video on YouTube thinking I might enjoy it and recognize a kindred spirit. What I recognized were two of my own rats. Dang, I’ve been copy/pasted!

A student once told me that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. Yeah, whatever: I gave him a zero. He’s a lawyer in DC now and still holding to that philosophy, by all reports.

Anyway, if you’re a rat person, you’ll enjoy the vid and identify with the song selection. If you aren’t, you’ll still enjoy the vid and think the soundtrack is a funny juxtaposition. And if you’re thinking of becoming a rat person, you’ll absolutely salivate over these splendid photos (if I do say so, myself, having taken two of them).

My Rat Ate My Homework


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Here’s a cute video post from a cool rat chick’s blog, ratslikethings:

As a teacher, I’ve heard every ridiculous story under the sun about missing homework. Personally, I once left an entire stack of research papers I was grading over spring break at the bottom of the Grand Canyon rather than chasing through the dark after the slavering, murderous varmint that swiped them So it was “right back at ya” week when classes resumed: “Um, a coyote ate your homework. No, really. Here’s what’s left of a cover page with muddy footprints and gnaw marks all over it. Yes, that’s blood smeared across your name, and maybe a fleck or two of rabbit fur. No, I wasn’t going to argue with him, since it wasn’t that good a paper, anyway. Being eaten was the best thing that could have happened to that paper.”

Yeah, my teaching evaluations that semester don’t bear thinking about.

I actually did get the “embibed by my rat” excuse once, long before I became a rat chick. Didn’t believe it for a second. Now I know. Seeing is believing. I owe that kid an apology and a grade change.

Rat Tip #2: The Winston Churchill Spill-proof Food Dish Solution


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About the 907th time I had to mop up overturned soup, pureed peas, yogurt, tomato juice, oatmeal, and the like, it suddenly occurred to me to devote some cognitive activity to the task of thinking through the problem. Either that, or I ran out of little side dish bowls and grabbed one of my cigar ashtrays off the shelf in sheer desperation to get breakfast on the table for a cage full of vermin vehemently protesting their cruel treatment and impending starvation. That’s a long row to hoe for a fat squishy plop-osaurus like Henslowe or the dumpling twins, Antonio and Sebastian, but the little blighters manage it. First thing in the morning, I just want to get them fed and get some coffee in me before that day’s fresh brand of hell gets fully under way. Yep, not a morning person. How’d you guess?

Regardless of the source of inspiration, be it deductive reasoning or sheer laziness at NOT having run the dishwasher the previous night, I came up with the idea of feeding wet and potentially messy foods out of large, heavy, tip-proof, and inexpensive cigar ashtrays. Ok, I admit it: not always so inexpensive. I sometimes use a rather attractive Baccarat crystal ashtray that otherwise gathers dust in my china cabinet, a gift from a former dusky paramour. But you know what? The bastard ran around on me; his gift has now proved more serviceable a selection for me than he ever was [smutty inference entirely intentional]. He was a complete rat in the old-fashioned, James Cagney-esque sense of the word. Since he had the vulgarity to make it clear this gift was a reward for particularly memorable services rendered, and since he feared and loathed the beloved rodents–a sure sign of depravity in any man, dusky and well-endowed or otherwise–it seems an appropriate gesture. I hope he’s stalking my blog right now. >:- ]

Dear former dusky paramour, did I look like a cheap gangster’s floozy to you, really? In which case, for the same price I’d rather have had the always appropriate traditional chorus girl payoff, the diamond bracelet, and continued using my perfectly functional $5 Walmart ashtray.

What (you might well ask) are you doing with cigar ashtrays lying all over the place, Dovey?

Well, the truth of the matter is that I occasionally enjoy a good cigar, particularly on the front porch or in the garden…keeps the mosquitoes away a hell of a lot better than toxic, smelly citronella candles, I can tell you. And the oral pleasure of a plump, soft, lightly-fermented roll of tobacco leaves between the teeth is not to be underrated, not to mention the heady experience of roiling sweet smoke over the palate and all of the delightful rituals that surround cigar smoking. I may only smoke half a dozen or less a year these days, but when I do, I don’t intend to spend all evening searching high and low for an acceptable and aesthetically pleasing ashtray, nor do I want to go picking up cigar butts all over the garden.

Note to the reader: you are not my mother, and the task of upbraiding me for “that unhealthy, disgusting, expensive habit” belongs exclusively to that good lady. No comments from the militantly non-smoking section, please.

$5 is significantly less than a good food bowl goes for at Petsmart: no need to pull out the Baccarat unless it just tickles you, as it does me, to feed your rats out of a “breakfast bowl” that cost a certifiable jackass significantly more than a grand, as some sort of  perverse metaphorical revenge when he probably doesn’t even remember what was so damned erotically memorable to begin with. Bitterness is not a pretty thing in a woman, but as a woman scorned, I’d feel better if I felt worse about it: the ratties seem to appreciate their posh dinner service, they couldn’t tip one of these babies over with a bulldozer, and their velvety tongues playing over the smooth surface of that 4 lbs. of hand-blown, lovingly polished crystal perfection pleases me beyond reckoning. Pleasure is a hard enough commodity to come by before noon for us theatre folk.

And I’m not kidding about the $5 ashtray at Walmart. It’s actually very simple and pretty, and I keep one on hand in my potting shed as well as in the vicinity of the rat cage. Try one, yourself. They save a heck of a lot of time and unpleasantness…have you ever tried to get dried-on boeuf bourguignon out of a Berkie’s white belly fur? It’s not a pretty process.

Cigar Wrapper Color Chart

The Good Death: getting euthanasia right (or) “You’re the Cream in My Coffee”


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Shugie's Last Day. Rats live their lives in the fast lane; which means, alas, that rat owners must come to grips with a rat's relatively short lifespan. Memento Mori, yes, but in the mean time, don't forget to Charleston!

People living in the medieval era concerned themselves greatly with an aspect of life referred to in Latin as Ars moriendi, which means “the art of dying.” The importance of dying with grace, both literally and figuratively, was expounded upon at length in a text from the early fifteenth century, also called Ars moriendi, which became a run-away best seller in Western Europe.

It’s easier to understand the desire to die properly when one considers that a mere 60 years prior to the publication of Ars moriendi, the Black Death blew across Asia and Europe, sweeping away somewhere between a third and a half of the entire population. Can you imagine waking up to a world in which half of the population of your own country–and everybody else’s–had died horribly and suddenly, in merely a matter of weeks?

Sixty years later, the plague was still burning through the populations of Europe and Asia about every ten years (taking a full 500 years to burn itself out), and people were both thoroughly accustomed to death and highly concerned that, when their time came, they could die properly and well–that there was a rightness to their departure from this life.

The Ars Moriendi, equal parts apologia and self-help guide, defends death as a legitimate and necessary part of life and makes a number of sound points that would have resonated deeply in the medieval mind, and certainly resonate in mine, to wit*:

  • Death has it’s benefits and shouldn’t be feared, since it is as normal as waking up in the morning. After all, we’re none of us getting out of this alive, are we? Ergo, if one must go, one should depart in style. Spiritual pride, despair, impatience, lack of faith, avarice–all of these make for an ugly death that will not only piss off God, but will also truly irritate those stuck at one’s bedside. In modern parlance, the dying should just suck it up and cope.
  • There are a number of very important questions one is obligated to ask the dearly departing, and also a number of things to be said that may give real consolation, largely having to do with an afterlife that doesn’t involve living in the same room, sharing the same latrine, and eating the same food, as one’s livestock.
  • If one is at a loss as to what a good death looks like, well…WWJD? Our Lord had a pretty impressive record of good behavior throughout his life, except maybe for that little dust up at the temple and maybe a touch of smart-assedness in his responses to the Pharisees; but certainly, “nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.” To the medieval mind, Jesus’s final hours were a class act, his death a nonpareil**, the ne plus ultra† of good deaths.
  • It is highly unfortunate to make an ass of one’s self at another’s deathbed, or (God forbid!) to upstage him. Those playing supporting roles should follow rules of good behavior in the spirit of thoughtfulness and in order to insure the quality of the experience for all concerned, particularly the star of the show.
  • If you can’t say something nice…then let someone else say it for you: within this book are prayers with a track record for making those expecting to join the choir angelic feel a little better about their upcoming audition.

What a sensible book. What a rational approach. What good ideas. Can you see why I’m so fond of those amazing medieval folks? They had such a healthy philosophy toward those embarrassing, unpleasant inevitabilities of life, things such as sex, farting, and deaths that required mopping up after. Our medieval ancestors were complicated people, but they didn’t complicate simple things the way their modern descendants feel compelled to. They were earthy, probably as much as anything because they were fully aware of how soon they would, in all likelihood, be returning to the earth. It’s hard to develop a rarefied sensibility when one knows one’s self to be, for all practical purposes, ambulatory mulch.


“Nice lecture, Dovey, but what has all of this to do with the death of a rat,” you might reasonably ask. Well, I’ll tell you. Shugies death wasn’t just a good death, it was a GREAT death.

There was a lot of good music, the early 20th century tunes the ratties seem to respond to so notably. Here’s a favorite, which we listened to a lot in these last days. You’ll smile and maybe tear up a little…but not much. Maybe listen as you read:

If I should die anytime soon, will someone please play this at my funeral? The world’s a better place for having had Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong in it. Got bless him.

Shugie had been doing really well in spite of the tumor under her arm and the large one in front of her back leg. It wasn’t until the back one started getting out of hand and making it harder for her to get around that I even considered that it might be time to think about taking a hand in her fate. Shugie would still climb up on her wheel and toddle along for a bit until last week. When she climbed up and just sat there, I knew it was nearly time. And when she couldn’t climb up at all and didn’t want to leave the nesting box, I knew that the time was at hand.

A good death trumps a bad life, any day of the week.

And what you can do to aid your pet in this direction is to arrange a death that is free of pain and fear and full of as much that is comfortable and familiar and loving and pleasant as can be produced.

Shugie got the works, the deluxe edition. Her last days were filled with fresh, fluffy linen, astonishing treats and all the bad for you things I’d mostly kept off the menu: twinkies, fried shrimp, popsicles, cookie dough. Inspired by the proper music, the girls rallied around Shugie. Even the irrepressible Bluebell managed to cool her jets long enough to do body-warming duty, which came to be crucial as Shugie wound down.

Everything settled into tranquility in the cage. I was so relieved I didn’t have to move Shugie away from the colony for some peace and rest. The youngsters desisted from their usual roughhousing and became impressive caregivers, bringing treats and offerings to Shugie when she didn’t feel like leaving the nest box, and even taking a turn as Shugie’s cuddle-buddy.

A word about euthanasia:

We can argue, if you wish, about the ethics of euthanasia for humans, of which I am a firm believer–but just step the hell back if you think there is an argument to be made for not putting animals that are in your care beyond their fear and pain. They have no understanding of living and dying and thus no opinion in the matter beyond not wanting to hurt. And since they don’t know what death is, they don’t fear it in advance. What they do fear is pain. If they are to have a good death, we must give it to them, before their suffering puts us both beyond heart’s peace.

There is, then, after all, no choice to be made, except one.

Ay, there’s the rub. No choice. Time’s up. Don’t mess about with your own guilt and sorrow and unresolved modern issues with death so that you forget, as the Ars Moriendi so pointedly reminds us, that it’s not about you–it’s about the terminally ill one, a soul that is suffering and deserves what comfort you can give, right damn now.

I dug a hole beneath an azalea that isn’t doing as well as the others.  As for Shugie’s shroud, I selected a classic Ritz Carleton dinner napkin with a lion in raised design in the middle. It seemed fitting for such a lion-hearted woman warrior. St. George slaying the serpent would have been even more apropos, but one does what one can in the time provided.  I would wrap her up like a little package when it was all over and set her in the ground to “go elemental,” as my chemist friend calls it.

Shugie spent her last night sleeping under a pile of girls in the nest box, with only her nose showing. In the morning, she got the daily vigorous baby-wipe bath that has become necessary once the tumors grew big enough to prevented her from cleaning herself properly. Then we had eggs, bacon, and toast with a few licks of V-8 to wash it all down, followed by a brief nap.

Later, I put on the irrepressible Lee Morse’ ripping “Yes Sir, That’s my Baby. ” You go, Lee:

And, with a whole armful of ecstatic girls, we danced the Charleston around the house, with me, admittedly, joining in the singing at the silly and awesome “Doot-Doot-Doodle-Doo” section, which got the dogs dancing, too, and the cat staring disdainfully down on us from the top of a bookcase. Can you dance the Charleston with your arms full of rodents and your alarmed neighbors staring through their window into your living room? YES SIR, you certainly can!

We were still giddy as I put the girls back in their cage and packed Shugie into their beloved “rat bag,” the warm and fuzzy little knitted purse-thing I hang around my neck when I want to keep a sick rat close but need my hands free. On impulse, I carried the CD player to the car with us. I didn’t cry. Instead, I hugged Shugie to my chest as we drove and sang along to Shugie’s absolutely favorite song, one which made her run circles in my lap in the old days, grabbing my cuff to get me to scuffle with her. If you don’t know Max Raabe’s  “Your the Cream in My Coffee,” you need to. It’ll make your day. Listen all the way through, and you get fireworks at the end (!):

The vet thoughtfully had everything set up when we arrived, and I didn’t turn off the music as we went into the surgical suite. Shugie’s song is so infectious that my vet laughed out loud as he got things ready, and the vet tech fell into a few Charleston steps with me while Shugie poked her head out of the rat bag to see what in the world was going on. It was great, very, very New Orleans funeral, which was, after all, the goal.

By the time we got to the chorus, we were all four in a very good place. I lifted Shugie, wrapped in her blankie and still bruxing along with Max, out of the pouch and placed the bundle in a plastic bin, about the size of a boot box, that already had a towel tucked into it for her to burrow into and feel safe–and she did just that. She was perfectly happy and peaceful as we turned on the gas, and she was out like a light in nothing flat. When she was completely under–and the vet kept the gas nozzle over her nose to make sure she stayed that way–it was a matter of one quick and simple jab to the chest, and she was gone. It took less time than her song to finish up.

The gas, by the way, is essential, and you must insist upon it if you ever have to euthanize a pet rat. Otherwise, their last experience in this life will be a giant hypodermic needle gouging into their little chest, probing for their heart, which even a great vet may or may not hit on the first try, God forbid. Not a pleasant thought, so spare yourself that. Gas. Gas, gas, gas. Oblivion first, then the needle: the rat’s happier, you’re happier, and as a result, the vet’s happier. You are doing your vet a service by insisting if he or she isn’t yet aware of the need.

What an astonishing rat Shugie was. If you doubt it, or think I’m biased, read her profile. Months of neglect in a feeder tank couldn’t finish her off, nor could a week in a cage with a full-grown python. She kicked death’s ass when it came for her too soon, but she departed gracefully when her time had truly come. And I helped her do that. That, to me, is a good death. And I’m so glad, for Shugie’s sake, and for mine.

Sweet dreams ’til sunbeams find ya, Shugie….I’ll dream a little dream of you.


Smarty-pants Pedagogical Effluvia:

* ” to wit” is a middle English phrase dating from the 14th Century; it was originally “to witen,” which means “to know.”

** “nonpareil” is also middle English, derived from middle French, meaning “without equal.”

“ne plus ultra” is just plain old Latin, meaning “the culmination of perfection.” Yep, Latin. Yawn. It just doesn’t have the bouncing exuberance of middle English, does it? Oh well, I guess SOMEBODY’S got to study it….

A Shaman Examines the Nature of His Totum: Br’er Rat

A spiritually-minded gentleman, in a recent blog post, discussed the nature of two important totems in his life, the dog and the rat. Here’s a sampling:

Cunning, Resourceful, Logical, Morally Ambiguous, A Survivor.

Rat, i didn’t have a lot of choice when it came to Rat, he was always with me. We are essentially the same person anyway. How i view life is through rat tinted glasses. Which always puts a very interesting visual in my head. Every moment in our lives is an opportunity to grow and prosper to those who are Rat minded, or for those exemplify his teachings. Not always to the benefit of those around or near you, but often to yourself and what you consider your family group. A Rat Shaman quickly realizes that the universe may or may not be 100% on his side, but it definitely leaves plenty of loopholes. As long as you interpret the signs in the right way. Now this path is fraught with peril, and great reward. A Rat must always keep his eyes open for missteps and traps set by the callous and frankly not very bright people they have to navigate daily. Universally disliked, Rat still prospers off the decadence of our “success”. The Greater and more wasteful we become, the quicker and stronger the Rat becomes. They are seen as disease ridden pests, but that is just a shadow of the poison we force into their lives that has come back to bite us in the ass. Rat is a seeker of knowledge and has helped many a doctor reach a conclusion that would otherwise be unprovable. Rat is our under-appreciated partner. Rat has shaped our society along with us. Always in the wings to remind us of the dangers of overindulgence, or poisoned soup…


Well put, Mr. Riotoku. I believe you grasp the true nature of our friend.

His blog:

Rat Tip #1: ratties go gaga for cow hooves!


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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.

The Pet Poem Made Palatable


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The poetical rat reads a defense of pet poesy

Oh, how I do hate pet poetry. Pet poems tend to go down like vast mouthfuls of granulated sugar that must be swallowed in one go. Bleh. That “Rainbow Bridge” thing makes me want to toss up every time I run across it, which is every time I go to a vet’s office anywhere in the United States. Pet poetry = gag me with a spoon. Even T. S. Eliot’s pet poems sucked the great wazoo. I mean really–have you sat through a production of “Cats” as an adult? Lord Jesus take me on up to heaven now, before someone gives me tickets.

But here is a poem on the subject of pet ownership that I rather like, courtesy of the ever-excellent Rat Guide. The cosmic metaphor is a bit much, but the ideas and sentiment are both subtly rendered and satisfactorily profound. Read on, my equally jaded friend:

You Are My World
My small life is in your hands.
Every drop of water I drink, each morsel of food I consume, every
word and touch is delivered by you.
(You are the sun in my sky)

My daily safety is in your hands.
It is you who provides my companions, controls my environment,
determines the quality of my care.
(You are the moon above me)

My entire destiny is in your hands.
I offer in return loyalty, love, companionship, and my complete trust.
It is all I have to give.
(You are the stars that shine down)

Not bad, eh? That’ll make you meditate on whether you’ve been changing the bedding and refreshing the water bottle as often as you ought, won’t it? Well done, Rat Guide poetry editors. Food for thought without a mouthful of sugar. Well done.

Candy for Your Babies: doxycycline medicine balls for your pet rat


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Peanut butter doxy balls are an excellent and economical way to get bitter tasting doxycycline down your rat’s throat, whether for treating respiratory distress or daily as a prophylaxis to prevent future flair-ups.

Far and away, my rattie’s favorite time of day is “CANNN-DY TIME!” Each night before I go to bed and just as they are getting up, each and every rat over the age of six or seven months gets a delicious treat in the form of a flour-coated peanut butter ball about the size of a garbanzo bean, cleverly laced with doxycycline. The daily dose helps prevent outbreaks of mycoplasmosis or pneumonia. It has not failed to register that my recent loss came at the end of a week in which I had run out of medication and was not diligent about replacing it quickly.

According to the excellent Rat Guide:

The prognosis for rats with pneumonia is very grave, and will require long term antibiotic therapy. Due to the belief that Mycoplasma is probably never eliminated entirely from the airways in rats, and because it is a contributor to the development of pneumonia, it often becomes necessary to use pulse antibiotic therapy (long term, intermittent, dosing), or a continuing maintenance schedule of antibiotics for rats with chronic Mycoplasmosis.

I don’t think that pulsing really gets the job done for rats with a tendency toward mycoplasmosis. Call me a reactionary war-mongering Texan, but I’m for bombing the little bastards into a parking lot and keeping them that way. I’m all about daily dosing, which has worked wonders on my troops. Fear not: for whatever reason, rats don’t seem to develop immunity to doxycycline over time the way humans do.

Medi-balls are easy to make and are so tasty that they make rats literally jump for joy. It’s worth it to mix up peanut butter treats even if you aren’t medicating them, and I do so when I have rats that are too young for doxycycline, a drug which can adversely affect bone development in rats that are still growing. Otherwise, the babies feel left out.

There are several recipes on line, but mine’s the best and the easiest. I will be mixing up a batch as we go along to make sure I don’t forget a step, such as “mix in medicine.” Forgive the stream of consciousness style of my instruction. I’m nearly as tall a Julia Child and will, for the amusement of my dogs, cat, and rats, all of whom are looking on, use my “Julia” voice whenever it seems appropriate.


  • A small bowl or ramekin for mixing
  • A fork or tiny whisk for blending meds w/liquids before forming dough
  • Optional: a pastry cutter for ease in mixing flour into peanut butter
  • A sharp knife for slicing up properly sized balls before rolling them in your hands
  • Snack-sized zip lock bags or very small containers for storage of balls in refrigerator
  • Powdered doxycycline in capsule form (100 mg per capsule is the most economical)
  • An ounce or so of water as needed to activate doxy powder and keep peanut butter mixture wet enough to work with
  • A few drops of vanilla-butter-nut flavoring (optional but tasty!)
  • Smooth peanut butter (I prefer the ultra-tasty Naturally More brand, which I eat myself and which contains loads of additional goodies and nutrients. Available in normal grocery stores)
  • White flour for mixing into the balls and also for dusting the rolling surface and the finished balls (How much? Your peanut butter mixture will tell you.)


RECOMMENDED DOXY DOSAGE: 2.5 MG PER KG OF RAT (Up the dosage to 5 mg per kg of rat if you are treating an active case of respiratory distress.)

1) Plan to make enough balls for a 14 day supply. Carefully separate the top from the bottom of the capsule and allow powered medication to spill into the ramekin.

2) Add about an ounce of water to medication and use a tiny whisk or a fork to thoroughly blend medication with water. Take care that all of the medication has completely dissolved in the water.

3) Add a cap-full or so of the vanilla-butter-nut flavoring, which will somewhat lessen the medicine smell of the mixture and turn it (insert “Julia” voice here) a lovely saffron color.

4) Use the fork to mix any separated oils back into the peanut butter in the jar and lift a big glop into the bowl of medicine. How much is a “big glop?” Well, that depends upon the strength of your medication. If you use 50 mg capsules, you need less; 100 mg capsules, which will make twice the number of balls, require more so that the balls are not too tiny to easily work with. Remember, we’re shooting for garbanzo-sized balls. Blend liquid and peanut butter until you can sleep the sleep of the just knowing you have blended the medication in evenly and thoroughly.

5) Put the lid back on the peanut butter jar before you leave to answer the door, so that your pernicious little fox terrier bitch does not eat up half the jar by the time you get back. Damn and blast.

5) When you’ve blended all of the liquid into the peanut butter, stir vigorously, which will thicken the mixture to roughly that of room-temperature cookie dough.

6) Add as much flour to the mixture as you can mix into the dough without making it crumbly, first with the fork (or a pastry cutter, if you prefer), and then by kneading with your hands. Remember, flour must be thoroughly and evenly cut in before you start kneading, so that the doxy will be evenly distributed.

7) Role dough into a ball. You will know you have used enough flour if the dough ball is not noticeably oily and yet not so dry that it cannot be easily worked. If it is too dry and crumbly for the little bits at the bottom of the bowl to be easily worked into the big ball, spread it all out in the bowl again, add a bit more water, and re-blend. Crumbly medi-balls are a problem.

8 ) Give yourself a headache while figuring proper dose per ball based on the weight of your rats, and then mathematically computed number of balls you ultimately want to end up with, depending upon the strength of the medication and the number of capsules you emptied into that ramekin. It’s probably a good idea to do this before you start. Um, yeah. Next time.

9) Having forgotten how many capsules you used for this batch, sort through disgusting kitchen trash until you’ve counted up empty capsule shells. I used two 100 mg capsules this time, apparently.

10) Note: there are two points in the process of making medi-balls that involve a certain amount of “fudging,” and this is one of them. My smallest doe, the diminutive and whip-smart Bluebell, weighs a mere 400 grams (.88 lbs) at eight months of age, while my largest buck, the porcine Henslowe, tips the scale at a whopping 720 grams (1.58 lbs). Merciful heavens, what a fatty! Right. So fudge #1 is to split the difference and decide upon an “average” weight for dosing purposes. Fudge #2: don’t sweat it if some balls end up larger than others. I make “doe balls” and “buck balls,” which are about a third larger than those I make for the does. So here we go: two 100 mg capsules at 2.5 mg/kg of rat, figuring an average rat weight of 500 grams or .5 kgs (because it’s easy to equate), means I should get 28.5 (let’s say 28 so I don’t have to shoot myself in the head at this point) balls per capsule, which means I need to end up with 56 balls when I’m done. Piece of cake.

11) Recover from splitting headache from trying to figure out the dose and proceed to form the dough ball into two, three, or four equally sized smaller balls as needed to work with more easily. If you’re OCD, you can use a gram scale to compare sizes of dough balls, but I just go with a visual check and how they feel in my hand. Opinions about proper dosing for rats varies somewhat, anyway.

12) Place one of the balls onto a lightly floured surface and roll into an evenly sized log with your hand. Slice the log into the correct number of evenly sized chunks. Form chunks into balls by rolling in your hand and coat each ball with flour so that they don’t stick to each other when stored.

13) Put floured balls into a ziplock bag (the smaller the better–too many balls create too much weight and press together into a floury mess). I always put a few tablespoons of flour in the empty ziplock and toss the balls like shake-n-bake as they go into the bag, so that each is liberally coated with flour and will not stick.



♥ Doxycycline balls will keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Make enough for two weeks when you make them so you aren’t having to whip up a batch any more often than necessary.

♥ MAKE CERTAIN that each rat eats his or her own ball entirely and that no thuggish cage mate (Bluebell!!!) mugs another for her treat. If a rat can steal a medi-ball, a rat will steal a medi-ball.

♥ Do not give doxycycline to rats that haven’t finished growing unless they are seriously ill, and then only at the instruction of your vet. I start rats on the doxy regimen at somewhere between six and eight months of age.

♥ You should include yogurt containing active cultures in the diet of any rat that is on an antibiotic regimen to keep the gut flora healthy.

♥ Explain to your vet that the doxy prescription is for prophylactic care and ask for refills on the original prescription. You shouldn’t have to call the vet each time you need a refill. Conversely, don’t purchase more doxy than you can use in a year, and be sure to check the expiration date carefully on your drugs.

♥ Dose ratties at the same time each day, or close to it, for maximum drug efficacy. Your rats will soon begin “reminding” you each day that it’s CANNNN-DY TIME, never fear!

Balm for Hurt Minds: the death of a beloved pet rat


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Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
~William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Dovey died a few minutes ago. I had, foolishly, just begun to hope. She finally seemed to begin to respond to the antibiotics and came out of the nebulizer this evening able to breath through her nose. She was able to shut her mouth…and then her eyes. She slept for nearly four hours curled up with her cage mates in their nesting box, all of them boggling and bruxing to have her back with them and no longer in distress. I know for a fact it was the first sleep she’d gotten in two days, and I’m grateful for it.

I’ve been very serious about subcutaneous hydration through this illness, and I suspect this is what gave her a second wind. Jack Nicholson was right: it’s the water. She was too busy trying to breathe to eat or drink at all, so there was no question about helping her stay hydrated. I could see its effect on her within minutes of injecting fluid under her skin. Her eyes would brighten, her breathing would relax, and she’d begin to show an interest in her surroundings again.

Water has a wonderful effect on the body. It keeps the organs functioning. It flushes and refreshes every cell and keeps the joints and skin supple. It aids in the breaking up and removal of deep-seated phlegm. And it just makes one feel better. I could see Dovey’s spirits improve after every hydration session. I warmed the solution to just above body temperature before I injected it, and I think Dovey sort of liked the warming presence of that sloshy bolus under her hip. It wasn’t there long, though. The body just sucks up all available liquid when it’s that sick. And her body was that sick.

Her lungs were just too damaged, inflamed and inundated with phlegm. Eventually, her airways closed up entirely. I mean entirely. I tried several mouth to nose puffs once I was certain that she was truly gone,  not in order to bring her back, but more out of morbid curiosity and distress than anything else. Her rib cage didn’t budge a millimeter. I don’t know how she lasted as long as she did.

Which brings me to the larger point. I should have put her down yesterday.

I was shocked when she made it through the night last night, and she spent most of the day today in an oxygen chamber at the vet’s. As soon as she came out of it, the heavy gasping began again. I knew in my heart it would come to this, gut wrenching agony for me, watching her gasp her last into the nebulizer mouthpiece and then dash about in a final frenzied search for oxygen. Eventually, she just settled into my arms and lost consciousness.

I should have put her down yesterday afternoon as soon as it was clear how sick she was.

She could have gone to sleep yesterday and just never awoken instead of fighting long hours only to succumb to the inevitable, a destiny her poor respiratory health has pointed to since she was a young doe. But she was my very first rat, my first one, and I just couldn’t face doing it in the light of day. I should have thought about how it would be in the dark of the night, when no euthanasia option was open to me. It would have been an easy decision if I’d any real inkling of what it would be like.

I will not do this again. A moderately sick rat deserves quality care and a chance to recover. A terribly sick doe deserves a gentle hand into that good night. Henceforth, my rats will get that gentle hand. There is nothing heroic about pointless struggle and prolonged suffering. Particularly not in a dumb animal that cannot comprehend death but can CERTAINLY comprehend suffering. This was my responsibility, and I just dropped the damned ball.

I’ve wrapped Dovey’s body in an embroidered handkerchief. I collect antique handkerchiefs as a tribute to my dissertation subject, King Richard II, who invented them. It seems a fitting shroud for a beloved pet. My rats smell like clean linen most of the time, anyway, as I am fanatical about keeping their bedding pristine and freshly laundered. The little bundle is resting on my chest as I type. In a few minutes, when the heat has left her body and I can bear to, I’ll set her aside. In the morning, I’ll bury her next to Lily and Blossom under the sleeping lily of the valley by the front stoop, where all my departed sweeties come to rest. In two and a half months, her life energy will return once again, present in the stalks of fragrant little white bells.

Rats don’t live as long as we’d like, or as long as they should. They are too intelligent and affectionate, too singular and responsive, for pet owners to accept such a short lifespan of them: one grows too attached. All three girls I’ve lost have died young of respiratory failure. It’s a terrible problem in the fancy. I would very much like to see that change, and I’d like to see that happen very soon.

Tonight, I’ll set Dovetail aside, play with the bumptious baby twins for a bit, which always makes me smile, give fat old Henslowe a cuddle since he’s up and running around, and begin the necessary process of shifting Tybalt, who is altered, back into the girls’ colony to blunt their grief at Dovey’s disappearance. Their distress is already palpable in their behavior, and this is not to be borne.

And then, finally, I’ll get some sleep, myself. My mind hurts, as does my heart. Any balm on offer will be a very good thing.

The Cruelest Month: caring for a sick pet rat


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Cuddle Therapy for Dovey: for the best chance at recovery, a sick rat needs warmth, comfort, and a renewed will to live. Keep your sick rat close to you.

From T. S. Eliot‘s The Waste Land:

I. The Burial of the Dead
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Eliot got it wrong. February, not April, is the cruelest month. I apologize for being so long between posts, but research trips have eaten up my winter. This is a blessing, since seasonal affective disorder is an old and vicious foe. But here we are, darkest February in the Midwest, may it be my last in this gristly climate. Last week, a raging blizzard. Today, a freakish seventy degrees. Next week, it’ll be freezing and horrible again, and EVERYONE will have a cold from these slamming weather changes.

On the upside, my two oldest girls turned two last month. Violet looks to outlive us all and is, as we speak, beating the daylights out of young Viola in retribution for some felony or other, probably failure to properly respect one’s elders. I know, I know, who picks such similar names for pets who have to share a cage? Blame Shakespeare. Viola is from the Twelfth Night litter. Her brothers, Antonio and Sebastian, are twinning it over in the boys’ digs. And Violet? Well, she’s a lovely violet blue and has been around much longer than the gang from Illyria. Doubt it not: Violet will live forever.

Dovey, on the other hand, who is of an age with Violet, is very ill. I knew it would come to this. Dovetail has been prone to mycoplasma since she was only six months old and gets full-blown pneumonia every time she stubs her toe. This current bout has been a very serious one. Her airways closed up before she could present any of the lesser symptoms that usually tip me off in the milder stages. I noticed she’d been very subdued the last couple of days and slept a lot, but she presented no other symptoms. Today I woke to gasping and respiratory panic, two very, VERY bad symptoms. The violently expensive new vet (easy on the eyes, though, which never hurts) slapped her into the oxygen tank for a few hours and we talked turkey. More specifically, we talked bronchial dilators.

I’m a big fan of the nebulizer. If you have rats, you must get your hands on a good used nebulizer. I’d recommend Craigslist. They are very inexpensive there because, at the risk of indelicacy, elderly people a) are prone to emphysema, asthma and pneumonia, and b) die. When they shuffle off this mortal coil, the last thing their relatives want to deal with is old medical equipment. Their grief is, sadly, our gain. Get yourself a nebulizer and a box of saline ampules, also very inexpensive. Do it now. You’ll be glad you did when you’ve got 2 AM labored breathing!

Presently, we are eight hours into Dovey’s distress. She’s doing better. Then worse. Then better. Then worse. One always  attempts to just hold on and weather the worst until the antibiotics have a chance to take hold, usually within 24-36 hours, and they’re tough hours, believe me. I don’t know if, this time, we have the time. Dove was gasping again about an hour ago, so I popped her back in the nebulizing chamber I’ve rigged up (small carrying cage, clear plastic bag, binder clips to hold the bag closed and the nebulizer mouthpiece in place) and hit her with Albuterol and Gentacin in the saline solution for about 25 minutes. Capable but pricey Doctor McSexy-pants also prescribed oral Amenophylline to help pry those pathetic bronchai open so the poor girl can get some air and the Gentacin can hit the bloody mycoplasma right where it lives, in Dovey’s poor scarred lungs. Why hasn’t it started working? Please, oh please, start working.

At the present moment, she’s curled up around my neck under a hoodie so I can monitor, literally feel, her breathing for signs of improvement and so that she can borrow my body temperature. Since her case is grave, I’ll nebulize her every three to four hours to try to keep her throat and lungs open long enough to get her past the crisis. We’ll sip honey water from a syringe, do some diss research, and maybe watch some Masterpiece Theatre on Netflix (quiet and soothing programming is a must–rats HATE yelling, gunshots, car chases and other loud cinematic mayhem). In that way, Dovey and I and Dame Judy Dench will pass the night. I hope. And pray. Don’t discount prayer. If the good Lord has his eye on the sparrows, he by heaven better be attentive to my bright and beautiful beloved girl.

She’ll get better, or she won’t.  It’s a bad case. Time, only, will tell.

In other news (damn you, Tom Eliot), my dear Shugie was diagnosed with lymphoma in late November. She’s done well in spite of eyes clouded white with lymphocytes and two sizable and fast growing tumors. In fact, up to her old tricks, she took a chunk out of the back of my hand just the other day, thinking the wicked python had returned and needed vanquishing once again. In her little rat mind, she is Sir Pellinor, and my hand ever her questing beast. Sadly, however, the end is nigh. She is losing muscle mass and having a harder time getting around. We will need to draw down the curtain gently and humanely very soon. To once again be frank but indelicate, I need to get this over and done with before the ground freezes again and I can’t get her buried. Roomies tend to look askance at zip lock bags full of deceased pets in the freezer, waiting for the spring thaw.

Euthanasia is a blessing. I’ve told my own parents that, should I ever be unable to make medical decisions for myself and have so much as a bad hair day, PULL THE DAMNED PLUG. And since I know Shugie’s end is coming and have time to prepare for it, I have the chance to make sure her last days are rich in cuddles and cream cheese and that they come to a close in a gentle cloud of anesthesia as she lies curled up under the beloved hoodie collar. If I could pick my own death, that’s the one I’d choose.

I’ll be glad when this god-awful month is over. April? Piece of cake.

Everything Signifies: straight talk on the aesthetics of rat cage design


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Le Corbusier Chaise Longue

What the urbane Pit Bull is wearing this season...

Am I the only rat chick out there with serious issues surrounding the availability (or lack thereof) of good habitats for our rodent friends? I doubt it. Show of hands, please: who out there is tired of purple plastic cages that look like they started out life as a toy space ship or a Barbie dream house? Shall we read yet another article to the effect that wire mesh wheels are the devil’s playground and that if your rats don’t have solid ramps you are going to hell, wherein you will burn? How about another holier-than-thou rattery home page positing the opinion that if you don’t fork over for a Martins Cage…well, you just don’t love your babies right and ought to have them removed from your home by the SPCA! Good grief.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m a stickler. Hell, I’ll just go there now and admit right up front to being an art-snob thinking-class house-proud design nazi and an out-and-out aesthetic-elitist bitch when it comes to how our pets and their habitats should fit into the Platonic ideal of one’s home. I recently criticized my wonderful friends Jenny and Dave in their decision to rescue an absolutely fabulous black and white pit bull puppy…because he didn’t match their home’s interior color palette. Think I’m kidding? Jen and Dave have a marvelous home full of warm arts-and-crafts colors, enough mission furniture to restock a Restoration Hardware, and a beautiful brindle pit bull bitch that brings it all together in the same way that the right tie animates a good suit. And I’m sorry, but young Petey is just too ’80’s postmodern for their little slice of bungalow heaven, what with his black and white coat and his perfectly graphic Li’l Rascals eye patch. Petey needs to wrap himself in a sleek moderne high rise full of chrome Wassily Chairs and pony skin Corbusier Chaise Lounges and a big-ass black and white Robert Longo lithograph series on stark white walls. I informed Jen in no uncertain terms that the only way I would approve of their keeping Petey was if they agreed to redo their upstairs bath in black and white tile. Ask her, she’ll confirm it. And if she has any sense at all, she’ll take my advice. Jarring pet design isn’t karma you want to mess around with.

Or take my rats: until the recent arrival of Sebastian and Antonio with their caramel latte coloration,  the boys all fell strictly into a gray scale design series. It was no accident that Will’s Siamese white with ash points, Henslowe’s black and white Berkshire markings, Tybalt’s pony skin black and white, and Arthur’s gray and white Berkshire w/white star could all be reproduced accurately without a color cartridge in the printer. Those boys look fine together. And come to think of it, all of the girls fall into a tight, chic  blue-gray-taupe palate. Design matters, brothers and sisters. Aesthetics count. Can I get an Amen from the choir?

And it’s for just that reason that we shouldn’t settle for cheap, crappy, cutsie, My Pretty Ratty habitats or, conversely, for cages that look like they were designed to hold industrial waste (sorry, Martins, but your cages look like nine levels of machine-age, Frankensteinian ass).

Right. Did you hear that? That cosmic THWAP you just heard echoing in the distance was the throwing down of a sizable gauntlet. Over the next several days we will  chat a bit about what works and what doesn’t work in cage design for pet rats: what does and does not promote good husbandry, good accessibility, and good design. Though he may have been pedantic and irritatingly French, when Roland Barthes insisted that everything signifies, he was right on the mark. Cage selection speaks volumes about the sort of person who makes the choice to allow that specific cage to become a significant design element in the home.

What is your rat’s habitat saying about you right now?

The perfect rat for a Martins Cage



On Theatre: remembering my friend and mentor, Randy Martin


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I’ve been thinking about my old friend and acting partner, Randy Martin, who passed away recently.  “Passed away” is a term I’ve always associated with the elderly—it seems an act of obscenity to apply it to someone as lively as Randy was every moment that I ever knew him. Though we haven’t laid eyes on one another for over two decades, Randy has never been far from the front of my mind. The lessons I learned with and from him have provided the foundation for my professional life. I always believed we would some day get the chance to catch up with one another and I’d have an opportunity to tell him how much his friendship has mattered to me. I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around the idea that he is not out there right now being wonderful for someone.

Randy was among the kindest, the gentlest, and the most professional actors I’ve worked with, though we were only 15 at the beginning of what turned into a pretty regular ongoing partnership. We grew up just a few blocks apart on Colgate Lane and went to Elementary School together–I had a huge crush on his brother David in the sixth grade after he gave me his mood ring. We somehow ended up moving to the same country town within a few years of one another. Randy was responsible for my first kiss—my first 39 kisses, in fact, counting rehearsal efforts (which I certainly did)—first under the coaching of our exceptional theatre teacher, Ms. Carolyn Kemplin, and afterward, when I felt ready, in the presence of a cast of whistling yahoos, followed by a series of packed houses. For someone as painfully shy and inexperienced as I was at that time, his poise and gallantry were both terribly kind and absolutely essential. I didn’t know it at the time, but strictly speaking, the most serviceable gift he ever gave me was a gloriously thorough demonstration of the techniques involved in projecting smokin’ hot passion to the last row, a skill I’ve been passing on to new generations of young actors in “Altoid Sessions”  for 22 years. Randy perfectly understood and inhabited the spaces between private and performative affection: one could safely be just a little in love with him for the span of a single show, construct with him a remarkably intimate relationship over the 8 weeks of production, and come away unscathed, boundaries intact, without hurt feelings. As a leading man, he was a class act.

Randy Martin is, by the way, the only man who has ever literally swept me off my feet, all six feet of me, during a remarkable moment at the end of a curtain call. Less than seven minutes later, he was shoving my high-tops and basketball uniform through the window of my dad’s car, already rolling away, me in the backseat ripping off costume, hauling off character shoes, trying like hell to comb out sausage curls, slapping tape on my ankles, hoping to just make the second half of a big home game. Fifteen minutes after that, Randy was there in the stands, leading a rowdy crowd from the cast in a raucous chorus of “Pirates Fight” (pronounced “Pah-rits Faht” in wide-awake Wylie, TX). I think that was the night it really sunk in for me that a cast is a family.

Later in that same game when I stepped out of bounds for a throw-in, Randy jumped down out of the stands and hissed “Lashes! Gimme the lashes!” I frowned for a second while the ref glared at him and tried to decide whether or not he was going to give us a technical foul…and then the light came on. I ripped off two of the most disgusting, sticky, mascara-coated false eyelashes–the sort only ever worn by musical theatre ingénues and two-dollar whores–and shoved them into his hand, whereupon he sauntered away picking glue off of his palm, muttering “Jeez, kid, you look like Bambi out there…after somebody shot his mother.”

Ten weeks after that, Randy and I and two other young actors broke through all bounds of reasonable expectation and simply soared with a script so far beyond our ken that it was utterly ludicrous for us to even attempt it. Thank God our director had enough sense not to tell us so. This was the first show that seriously required us to break a sweat as theatre artists, and it launched me unalterably upon a career in the theatre, a decision I’ve never regretted. It was while working with Randy on this production that I absorbed many of the truths that still serve as the cornerstone of my directorial philosophy:

-An actor’s reach in performance should, whenever possible, slightly exceed his grasp: the actor reaching for a new level of competency will always be compelling to an audience, even if his character is not, because he is placing his ego at risk and is therefore fully awake to the messages of his senses and the dynamics of relationships, both fictional and real, on stage from moment to moment.

-Theatre is the most fully collaborative of all the arts. In the theatre, you have two choices: feed each other, or starve alone.

-What’s funny on stage? Things in threes are funny. Fat chick jokes: funny. Guy in a dress: really funny. Live chickens on stage: funny, but never the way you intend them to be. “Who’s on First” STAYS funny.

-If an audience can’t hear you, it can’t care about you.

-LISTEN to each other, all the time, every second, as if  you have no idea what’s going to happen next on stage. Listen to the lines between the lines. Acting is listening.

-It’s not the set that tells the story, but the actors on it. The set’s job is to be of help if it can, otherwise, to stay the hell out of the way.

-The actors with the biggest roles should take on the humblest jobs during strike. It’s only right that leads should sweep up after everyone else since, up until the final curtain, everyone else has swept up after them.

-A professional, in fact an adult, is someone who doesn’t make messes that require others to clean up.

Godspeed, Randolph, with all my heart. I hope you had the rich and wonderful life you deserved. You will not be forgotten: not a single day of my working life goes by without one of the lessons we learned as kids coming to the forefront of my mind, and you with it. Thank you for being kind, for helping me learn to take art seriously without apology, and for leaving me with so many useful tools. I will always be grateful for having had you as my friend at a crucial time for both of us, the time when people construct the adults they wish to be.

Walk Like a Panther: teaching your rat to walk on its hind legs


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Can’t help myself–it’s my birthday and I get to be self-indulgent. Whatever, this is a treat for you, too! Here is another abso-bloomin’-lutely marvelous video from the talented and prolific oPuPo, one of my favorites. I don’t know which is best, the quality and clarity of her positive reinforcement-based training method, the All Seeing I cover of The PretendersWalk Like a Panther, or just the visual of big ol’ squishy rat Womble tippy-toeing all over the room on his tiny little feet to earn a treat.

Happily, we don’t have to choose.  Check it out, and totally crank up the volume ’til the neighbors call the cops!

PS-All Seeing I does a pretty good job on their own achingly hip video. You should check it out on

The Woman Warrior: Shugie’s Profile


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Ghost Ball Python

This tank ain't big enough for the both of us.

Shugie’s profile is published, and it’s a hum-dinger. Here’s an excerpt:

There are rescues and then there are RESCUES. Shugie has been granted full refugee status here at Dovetail, and she earned it the hard way, believe me. When Shugie came to us, she was suffering from festering fang marks over much of her body, a slew of broken ribs, acute dehydration and (not surprisingly) a rip-roaring case of PTSD.

Shugie spent over a week in a tank with a full-grown ball python. She survived by “pulling a full-blown Ripley on its serpentine ass,” as her rescuer, a budding rat fan, so eloquently put it. Sigourney Weaver would be proud. Every time the python grabbed her, Shugie punched its face and eyes and sank her own impressive teeth into whatever snakey morsel came within reach. Apparently the battle resolved into stalemate, and upon seeing the damage Shugie was doling out, the snake’s owner decided to rethink her policy on live feeder rodents, altogether….

The full story is under SHUGIE in the menu below. More profiles on the way, though perhaps not quite the “profiles in courage” that Shugie’s is.

Miss Dovetail’s Profile Page is Published


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Still swearing and declaring over difficult process of separating menu from category headings–>GET ON THE BALL WITH YOUR INTERFACE ISSUES, WORDPRESS!!!<–but Dovey’s profile, the first, is up and can be accessed via the profile menu at the bottom of the page. God willing.

Jump in the Line, Rock Your Body in Time…Rock Your Body, Child!


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Favorite rattie vid ever. Some days you just need joy in your life. Here’s some joy. Remember getting this excite about the Popsicle man when you were a kid? I do. Aren’t rats awesome?

Nothing wrong with a little vintage Harry Belafonte, either.

Shake, Shake, Shake, Senora…Somebody HELP me! 🙂

Belafonte in John Murray Anderson's Almanac on...

Harry, I dig those pants!


Paging Dr. Doolittle: the nigh onto impossible task of finding a good rat vet


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Rat owners looking for quality health care, or possibly ANY health care, are faced with what can be a serious dilemma. I live in a university town with a vet school, and the inability to locate a vet on a weekend who would treat a rat cost me the life of my beloved Blossom, a blue hooded dumbo doe with the sweetest temperament I’ve ever encountered in the species. Why? Because my excellent vet was with her dying father in another state and could not be reached by phone, because none of her associates felt comfortable treating a rat, because the vet school emergency clinic currently lacks a resident who treats rats, and because the additional emergency vet clinic had no one on staff treating rats that weekend, either.

This seems so bizarre to me, since rats only really get about three or four serious medical conditions. Really. You’d be hard pressed to find an easier species to deal with. They get mycoplasmosis, they can develop abscesses (including bumblefoot if they are housed inappropriately), occasionally their teeth get knocked out of alignment and need trimming, and they are prone to tumors late in life. With a very few exceptions, that’s largely it. And because of the importance of healthy rats to scientists in laboratory settings, the guidelines for dosing and treatment are well-established for rats. Vets have easy access to the guidelines. A weekend studying up should prepare any person who actually completed vet school to treat just about any illness a rat will present that doesn’t involve surgery.

And I’m sorry, but here’s the part where I yell: ALL I NEEDED WAS A BLOODY REFILL OF BATRIL, EASILY ONE OF THE MOST COMMONLY PRESCRIBED ANTIBIOTICS IN VETERINARY MEDICINE. My regular vet’s associates could have called one in for me if I’d thought to ask that my vet leave a note in my file to that effect in the event she was unavailable, but I didn’t know to request that she do so.

Now I do know. Now I have a refill for Batril  (enrofloxacin) and liquid Vibramycin (doxycycline) tucked away in my rattie meds kit so that I never have to experience a weekend like that one again. Unfortunately, by Monday morning Blossom had been laboring heavily for breath for over sixty hours, and she was done in—as was I, having not slept longer than two hours at a stretch since the previous Thursday night. Blossom even seemed to rally somewhat on Sunday afternoon: her breathing opened up a bit, the audible congestion in her lungs dropped from a death rattle to what I would describe as an asthmatic wheeze, the color improved in her cyanotic tail, ears and toes, and she began to eat baby food on her own. She seemed to be past the crisis and on the mend.

I was so relieved to have won a round against this blasted scourge that I made the news of her survival “facebook official.” My vet thinks her improvement may have been due to my decision, born of sheer desperation, to nebulize Blossy with a mixture of saline and a few serious hits from my albuterol inhaler.  It probably enabled her to hold out long enough for the doxy to get a foothold on the infection in her lungs. It probably also exacerbated what proved to be her final complication, congestive heart failure. Blossom’s heart just couldn’t take three days of the immense exertion it takes to sustain such extremely labored breathing, not with her incredibly high metabolic rate. I couldn’t get enough food down her throat to keep up her strength, and the muscle tissue just melted off of her bones. Finally, pulmonary edema set in. Soon enough, her heart just didn’t have room to function, and she faded away. It was heartbreaking after all we’d been through, but I was just grateful she didn’t literally drown in her own congestion, the more usual outcome with serious cases of mycoplasma. The sight of an animal utterly panicked for breath, thrashing and clawing and rushing around in a desperate search for air, is simply horrific—if your views on euthanasia are in the least conflicted, experiencing such a thing even once will clarify your thinking. As hard as she had fought, I was grateful beyond words that Blossom’s end was peaceful.

And yet a few 10ths of a ml of Batril might well have prevented the entire event. It seems to be antibiotics in combination that do the trick against mycoplasma. Now, I follow a regimen that includes doxycycline in peanut butter medicine balls, which I give regularly to all of my rats as a preventative, with the addition , whenever anybody seems to be developing upper or lower respiratory symptoms, of a 2-step combination of albuterol (this time dosed properly for rats!) and then Gentocin (gentamicin) in the nebulizer to open up the airways and deliver that excellent antibiotic right to the source of the bacteria. Just a few nebulizations seem to knock mycoplasma back into dormancy where it belongs.

But back to my original query: who the hell do you have to sleep with in this town to get a rat treated on the weekend? I thought I’d found a solution in a veterinary practice that boasted four vets who all treat rats. Then the weirdness began. Visit number one nearly ended in tragedy when the vet put my albuterol refill into the vial of Batril I’d brought to also have refilled. I’m pretty sure that .25 ml of undiluted albuterol administered orally to a rat weighing under one pound, if given to a human being in a comparable dose, would manage to finish off even Keith Richards. But I overlooked that incident as a freak accident. It was the end of the day. Mistakes in dosing happen. I was on the alert and caught the mistake before we left the examination room. No harm, no foul.

But then, something similar happened. When for whatever reason their injectible Batril, theoretically suspended in a syrup for oral dosing, was too acrid for the rats to tolerate, a doctor gave me the oral tablet version suspended in Pet-tinic, which would have been fine, except that she dispensed it in the same bottle without giving me a new label and then didn’t write down the change on my chart. Additionally, in spite of the size of this busy, busy practice, they still hand-write prescription labels and leave out required information, such as the strength of the medication and its expiration date. What they do include is often illegible. All of this is a recipe for disaster, and I nearly got one. While arguing on the phone with the vet tech and then the vet, herself, I suddenly realized that the bottle was improperly labeled and that I’d been significantly underdosing poor Henslow, a big, squishy male topping out at just over two pounds, for nearly two weeks. I’d been giving him the .25 dosage of Pet-tinic w/Batril once daily, rather than the prescribed .5 – .7 ml twice daily. At that point, I threw up my hands. I am furious. Once is a mistake; twice is malpractice.

I intend to have a sit-down meeting with the practice manager to go over the chain of events, both as a courtesy and because I did so want this practice to work out for me. The vets are kind and interested and do not discriminate against non-cat/dogs. Heck, they treat tortoises and snakes and volunteered that they’d even have a go at my koi if the need arose. But their dispensary protocols are a nightmare and are in blatant violation of state regulations and quality of care standards across the profession. I expect they’ll be entirely too busy to take my complaint seriously, which means I’ll then have to file a complaint with the state board. Which I will do. Which I must do, as a responsible pet owner. But I don’t want to. I want them to fix it. I want this relationship to work.

Oh dear, it’s the old, old story, isn’t it? The boyfriend you take back when you shouldn’t… The engagement you keep fighting to sustain when everyone knows you are making a terrible mistake… Why do you do it? Because you think “he’s the one, and I’ll never again find anyone else I can love as I love him.” Because his intentions are good. Because you’re afraid of being alone on a Saturday night. Check, check, and check: good relationships work for any number of unique reasons; bad ones all crash and burn in accordance with the  same template.

So the search goes on. I DON’T want to be alone on a Saturday night, not with a desperately sick rat and no vet to call, not ever again! As sometimes happens in the case of romantic relationships, I may go back to an old flame and see if we can reach an accommodation—in this case, regarding options for treatment in emergencies when my excellent vet is unavailable. Perhaps she can encourage her associates to suck it up, do a little homework, and TRY treating rats–in theory, they are fully qualified to do so. Perhaps they could assist on a tumor removal and a neuter or two until they are actually even comfortable with surgery–do what it takes to get over their case of the vapors and begin to fulfill their physicians’ oaths. Perhaps she can prevail upon them to at least refill a prescription in her absence, especially given that rats only do get a very few ailments, and those of us who love rats, unfortunately. know mycoplasma when we see it. Even were it an ailment other than mycoplasmosis, protocols are largely the same for most respiratory infections, and it’s the secondary infections that usually do the poor beasties in, anyway—as they would quickly realize upon doing just a little bit of reading.

Rat lovers, I hope you have had better luck than I in finding good veterinary support. If you own a rat and you haven’t yet located a vet, DO IT NOW, while your pet is healthy. You DON’T want to be on the phone at midnight on a Saturday night with a dying rat in one hand, a phone book in the other, and no idea what to do or where to go. Trust me—you truly do not want to live that moment.

Grow a Pair: rat testicles for dummies


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It seems to be Initial Ew Factor Week here at Dovetail Rats. I suppose I’m reliving the introductory days of my love affair with our rattie friends. My first rats were girls. Why, you ask? Oh, you know….boys have those…things, those gross, vulgar, dangling giant….things!

As with tails, rat testicles occasionally (ok, often) elicit shudder responses from those of us who may only have caught a quick glance of them at the pet store or, heaven forbid, among our domesticated rats’ more urbane wild cousin, the city rat. Perhaps that sketchy guy who did, indeed, turn out to be an old-school, creepy raincoat-wearing flasher that day on the subway platform isn’t the only fellow who’s provided you with an unsolicited anatomy lesson.

The initial shock is understandable. Compared to humans, rats have large testicles. Why? Well, actually, it’s very simple. Rats, like many species, have a mating pattern that often involves females breeding with multiple males when they come into heat. The competition among males, therefore, to provide THE successful sperm that actually fertilize her eggs is intense. The larger the testicles, the more sperm is produced. The more sperm, the larger the odds of success. In short, big ol’ honking nuts are a real evolutionary advantage for male rats. All the best rats are sporting them.

This happens all the time in nature. Species that practice strict monogamy experience no advantage if their testicles are large. Species that compete for available females do. This is even true in primates, our own extended family. Here’s an exerpt from our reliable friends at

What about the testicles of humans and our close relatives, the gorilla and the chimpanzee? Gorillas are large 400 pound animals, but their testicles are tiny, a little over 1 oz together. Gorillas live in small groups in which one male mates with multiple females — no sperm competition, hence the small testicles. Chimpanzees are much smaller animals, tipping the scales at 100 pounds, but they have large testicles weighing about 4 ounces together. Not surprisingly, chimpanzees live in groups with multiple males and females, and when a female comes into heat she may mate with several males in one day. This means lots of sperm competition, hence the large testicles.

Humans fall between gorillas and chimpanzees, with a body size around 150-200 pounds, and testicles that weigh about 1.5 ounces. Human testicles are neither especially large nor especially small. This indicates that humans have a mating system that was neither as promiscuous as that of the chimpanzee, nor as exclusive as that of the gorilla. Therefore, sperm competition probably played a small role in the evolution of our sexual anatomy and behavior.

Aye, there’s the rub. Humans are built a certain way, and we tend to judge anything differing from our own expectations and experience to be somehow monstrous. It’s that speciesist xenophobia rearing its ugly head again. Only this time, there’s a healthy dose of loathsome residual Puritanism and perhaps even something akin to Freudian goolie-envy going on with certain of our species.

And yes, it’s an ugly fact, but we must not blink at truth: ladies, admit it, there is a small part of you that finds the whole idea of testicles marginally silly and even possibly distasteful. Poor things, having their equipment all dangling and exposed out there, looking for all the world like fishing tackle or something. Guys have an easier time of it expressing any discomfort or conflicted emotions they may feel regarding our genitalia. They even have at their disposal a Latin-based, establishment-certified term for inner loathing of girlie-parts, the deep, dark, moist and mysterious down-there of it all: misogyny. Funny how there isn’t a word provided to women for the distrust, distaste or downright disapproval of reproductive things male, isn’t it? How can we properly practice our secret inner other-loathing without one?

Be that as it may, our hung-up society has a very complicated relationship with its genitals–and anybody else’s.

But here’s what happens: you find out that male rats make particularly excellent pets. As a rule, they are more affectionate and more blessedly sedentary than their female counterparts. In other words, they are more likely than the girls are to proffer up little rattie kisses and then hunker down in your lap for a nice night together watching Hulu. The male rat’s metabolic rate more closely matches our own, whereas the females tend to rush about, trying to thrust their curious little noses into every corner of the universe when offered face-face time with the humans. If one of my girls is still, I check very closely to see if she is sick.

I LOVE my boys! Our relationship is less complicated, warmer, more fulfilling. Sure I love the girls, too; but I simply LOVE the boys, which is something altogether different, isn’t it?

And somehow, I found that along the way, I stopped worrying and learned to love the nuts. I think of them as little almonds wrapped up all warm and safe in a fur sleeping bag…and then forget about them. Like a habit or trait you might initially find foreign and irritating in a new friend, those largish oblate spheroids quickly seem absolutely normal, a given, even an endearing quality, and then they fade into the landscape. My little guys would not be who and how they are without their equipment.

And the mental image of happy little almonds snoozing away in their little fur sleeping bags makes me smile.

Velvet Underground: the subtle, sensual beautiy of the rat tail


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Reepicheep from Prince Caspian

I’d like rats, if it weren’t for those ghastly tails.

Ugh, those tails–they make me shudder just thinking about them, all scaly and hairless like that!

Why don’t they make rats without tails? Rats without tails would be fine…

And, my personal favorite, from a substitute vet at my excellent clinic: Ok, I admit it. Will Shakespeare (the rat, not the playwright) is just as sweet as a peach and even sort of pretty–I didn’t know rats could have Siamese markings–but I’ve never actually treated a rat. If you can maybe just sort of shield his tail from view, I’ll be able to do a better job here.

Poor unsuspecting, bravely honest (or overtly visceral) speakers. Little do you know that a fundamentalist upbringing has left a residue of evangelistic verve. You are mine, oh sinners in the hands of a rat-loving educator.

Cue the Spiel:

“I know exactly what you mean,” say I, hand gently placed on speakers forearm in sympathetic solidarity, “I used to feel exactly the same way!” (Shift in tone to Lecture Hall setting) “Actually,” pontificates moi, “the rat’s tail is a marvel of engineering.” (Dare I say intelligent design? Nope, don’t go there, my Darwinist friend, or you’ll regret it) “It allows the rat, an animal that can neither sweat nor pant, to thermoregulate in a variety of temperatures, such as those experienced in the wild–you know, the Times Square subway station in July, Taco Bells where the manager has forgotten to turn the heat down for the night, your attic….” (Whoops, how in hell did you wander off into THIS territory, Dovey? Back away from the involuntary shudder response and keep your blasted big mouth where I can see it.)

“Rats also use their tails to balance, much like a wire-walker uses a pole,” I say, back on message at last, “They use it as a counter balance to shift their gravity and, in some instances, for stability–like you’d reach your arm out to make contact with a banister while descending steep stairs with something in your hands. It’s not prehensile, but it almost seems that way sometimes.” (Good job, Dove, you DIDN’T say “like a possum’s tail.” People react even worse to possums than they do to rats!)

“There are actually tailless rats available as pets, but I wouldn’t want one, personally. They have a hard time keeping a steady body temperature, which means they’re much more susceptible to heat exhaustion, and they are not nearly as much fun to watch climbing and playing on ropes and ladders and such. Also, they lack a certain je ne sais quoi, don’t you think? A certain native brio? Remember that scene in Prince Caspian where Reepicheep ( who is clearly a rat and not a mouse, as any 4 year old could tell from his size relative to the other animals in the movie) gets his tail severed in battle, and his warriors are prepared to cut off their own tails rather than bear an honor denied to their leader? A rodent without his tail is a diminished creature.”

I move on to the money shot: “But have you actually ever felt a rat’s tail? Here, give it a go. Feel how warm it is, how supple and velvety? It’s not actually scaly or hairless at all, is it? Yes, it’s really quite nice, when you think about it.” (smiles encouragingly and hands rat over to previous non-fan, now entranced by sweet face, curious snuffling nose, and endearingly twitchy whiskers) “And look how clean rats are! They constantly groom their tails to keep them at their velvety best. Aren’t they just lovely?”

At this point, it’s all over but the crying. A fan is born. Like so many other biases, the loathing of the rat tail is conceived in ignorance, gestated through segregation and distance, and nurtured by a perceived otherness of the being in question, in a word, bigotry. Haters are so often in reality, though, merely never-met-ers. Isn’t it interesting, for example, that the first serious rat fanciers were Victorian rat catchers? Familiarity breeds admiration, where the noble rat is concerned. To know a rat is to love a rat. Really. Give it a go.

Here’s a really excellent web page that examines many aspects of our amazing little friend,  Rattus norvegicus:

OPuPo’s Video: pet rats should not be kept alone


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Vodpod videos no longer available.

What first convinced you to bring a rat into your home? There are as many answers as there are rat owners out there. But I’m willing to bet what convinced you to bring rats into you home was a heartfelt plea from another rat lover that you not condemn a social creature to a life of miserable solitary confinement. Recent studies on the effects of solitary confinement point to the fact that individuals of any intelligent species who are left alone for any length of time actually experience profoundly damaging neurological changes: they lose their sanity. And rats are terribly, terribly intelligent, I assure you. Watching a helpless creature that you profess to care about slowly come unhinged is not my idea of humanitarian behavior. Don’t get one rat. Get two. Get three! Two or three are actually less trouble than one.

What OPuPo, the video producer, says:

Food for thought for those considering buying just one rat on its own, or those who already have just one rat:

Rats are really sociable animals and need company all the time, not just human interaction and cuddles but rat companionship. Someone to groom and to groom them back, someone to curl up with for warmth and safety at night, someone to eat food beside so that they don’t feel vulnerable. No matter how great an owner you are or how much time your rat spends with you, you still have to sleep and work and no human can replace a second rat for the interaction they get from one another. It’s so important for their quality of life to have a buddy with them at all times.

Please ask any questions and leave comments. I hope the video can start to show the connection and bond that two rats form. Whiskey and Womble would never want to be without the other.

Please note: If you do only have one rat at the moment then it’s important that you don’t simply get another rat and put it into the same cage. In that situation rats will often fight and could kill each other. For advice on introducing rats to each other please message me.

I also just want to add that recently Womble has been pretty ill and Whiskey has been so great to him. He cuddles and grooms him and won’t leave his side. They know when something is wrong with the other and will do what they can to help.

Thanks for watching


And Thank you, OPuPo, for the good you’ve done the rat fancy through your marvelous videos. You are my inspiration. It was this video that finally decided me to bring rats into the house. And I’m so glad I did! BEST PETS EVER.

OPuPo is right, though: it takes a lot of patience to incorporate a new individual into a colony, even if it’s a colony of one. I should know–I’m in the middle of that process right now. Not three feet from my bed, Tybalt, a recently neutered male, is adjusting to life with the girls. He was a rescue and had been alone for many months. His lack of socialization and his fiery temperament made the neutering absolutely necessary if he is ever to have a normal life.

“Fiery temperament?” you ask? Hell yeah. Tybalt had been called some silly foo-foo name or other before I took him in, but he also had a bad case of fleas and ear mites, which pretty much voids any naming rights his old owners may have held, as far as I am concerned. They liked Tybalt, but they didn’t have idea one about how to care for a rat. Anyway, here’s the story they told me: they had put Tybalt’s cage on a stand next to a kitchen shelf the previous winter and woke one day to a CSI incident all over their kitchen floor. It seems a hapless mouse had been scurrying over the cabinet in search of a crumb when his eye came to rest on Tybalt’s food bowl, just a short jump from the counter-top and a quick wriggle through the bars. Oh, bad bad idea, little mouse. Tybalt opened up a fresh can of whoop-ass on that little interloper and tossed what was left over the side as a warning to other would-be burglars. God’s Bodkins, even their cats were afraid of Tybalt. If you haven’t read Romeo and Juliet lately, do take this opportunity to do so and remind yourself how appropriate was Tybalt’s new name.

“Was” being the operative word. When he first jointed the boys, Henslowe, Will Shakespeare, and Arthur must have thought I’d lost my mind and thrust a rabid weasel into their midst. Since his surgery, Tybalt has gone from psychopathic plague rat to the strong, silent type. With a nod to Rick Castle, suddenly he really is ruggedly handsome. Tybalt is the Gary Cooper of rats. The ladies love him. Or they will. In a week. Or maybe two. I hope. Luckily, there’s plenty of good information out there regarding best practices for introducing a new cage mate. I personally recommend “the pudding treatment,” wherein all members of the community and the new rat are smeared with vanilla pudding and deposited onto a neutral table or counter with a few boxes and hides to take the edge off everyone’s nerves. It makes them all smell the same, and, let’s face it: once you’ve licked pudding off of a person, well, you’re not really in any position to get all up in his face anymore, are you? Get lots of pudding…you’ll need some, yourself, to take the edge off your own nerves, won’t you? Yes, I thought you might.

Fromage, dears!

Dovey <:3 )~~~~