Dovetail (Emeritus, Dec 2008 – 18 Feb 2011) was a gentle and beloved mink Berkshire doe whose lovely, expressive face reminded one why female rodents are aptly called does. I’ve never seen another creature so reminiscent in facial structure and softness of expression of a white-tailed deer. I often thought it would be adorable (were I one of those people who put their pets in silly costumes) to fashion for her a pair of tiny antlers.
Dovey was most definitely the Hestia of our little pantheon, goddess of the hearth, architecture, and the right ordering of domesticity and the family. She moved bedding around until the nest was just so and all soiled linen had been removed to the basement. I could always tell when fresh mats were needed on the upper levels because every single dirty mat would be on the lower level when I returned from class, including the one for the full third floor. She defended home and hearth from intruding rats by gently but firmly taking the intruder’s ear–or my finger if I hadn’t washed my hands after handling the boys–and guiding it directly to the nearest exit without comment. And yet she was always the first to accept and befriend a new colony member, a trait I came to count on and one of many that is sorely missed. Once a new girl obtained Dovey’s seal of approval, she was accepted without further editorializing from the rest of the girls. Dovey was partial to the little fuzzy bird cozies I suspend from the top of the Rat Manor: there’s only room for one rat, and lofty solitude seemed to suit her. I suspect the stimulation of an active group of girlies could wear on Dovey’s calm, introverted soul. Eventually they began to miss her, though, and the whole clique would climb up to fetch her down for a ladylike game of bitey-face. The grief among her colony when she passed was almost beyond bearing.
Dovey truly adored the wheel. Her expression as she bound along was like nothing so much as a lady at the gym getting very into the zone on a treadmill. Whereas Shugie trotted along with a song in her heart, Dovey needed to feel the burn. And just as at the gym, there was occasionally a pretty impressive squabble between the two of them over access to the equipment. I am overjoyed to see that young Viola seems to have taken Dovey’s place on the wheel most evenings, galloping along for all she’s worth.
Dovetail died of respiratory failure, though who knows what the underlying trigger of that condition might have been. She was particularly prone to respiratory problems from an extremely early age and often had an audible pop or crackle in her breathing, which worried me and kept me vigilantly on guard for mycoplasma. To no avail, ultimately. She went down quickly with no early symptoms to alert me to her failing health. She slept a lot the week prior to her final illness, spent two days in extreme respiratory distress, and died in my lap in spite of every medication, oxygen treatment, nebulization, and fluid support regimen we could offer. She was buried in the front garden under the lily of the valley during a rare thaw on a balmy, sunny day. I must be content to have had just a little more than two wonderful years with Dovey. She was among my first rats and won’t be soon forgotten.