Total rat envy. It’s an ugly thing, rat envy.
animal health, Characters in Romeo and Juliet, Companionship, Daleks, Death of a Pet, Downton Abbey, Dr. Who, euthanasia, Grief, Grieving for a Pet, James Bond, King John Characters, Mercutio, Neutering, pancreatic tumor, pet care, pet health, Pet Rat, pet seizures, Rat, Rat Physiology, rattie, Romeo and Juliet, solitary confinement, Tybalt, veterinary ethics, William Shakespeare
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.
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: http://www.ratbehavior.org/rats.html
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.
Dovey <:3 )~~~~