We were in a Petco buying mealworms for our pet lizards when I saw a young rat in a box that said “Free”. She was free because she’d lost half her tail in an accident, and she was a mess, but she was so inquisitive and friendly that I had to take her home. I’d had a couple rats years before, but I didn’t really expect much: in hindsight I think my old rats were unusually dumb.
Anyway, Anna was a much more enthusiastic learner than my old rats. She learned to come to her name (though she would only bother when she was hungry for treats). She learned to open ziplocks full of treats when we weren’t looking. She liked to run around the floor of the living room, and when she was tired of exploring, I trained her — or maybe she trained me — that if she climbed up my chair and rested on my shoulder, I would take her home and give her a treat.
But Anna didn’t have a lot of luck with her health. In fact, she’s like the unluckiest rat of all time:
- Lost her tail,
- Was allergic to most beddings, giving her itchy skin,
- Got hay fever every year, emitting little ratty sneezes,
- Had poor eyesight and had to weave back and forth to see anything,
- Developed an ingrown tooth that required major rat surgery,
- Got an infection after the surgery that gave her a stroke,
- Developed more tooth problems, requiring dental work every six weeks
But despite it all, she was still the same friendly, inquisitive, and determined little pet. “Not an ounce of self-pity” on her, as Mary Oliver would say. Over the years, we’ve acquired three more rats to keep her company (rats need friends), but our vet told us to keep her separated from them: he was worried they would start picking on her. That was never necessary — she was always bitchy enough to hold her own.
The last time she visited the vet for her regular tooth-fixing, she looked like a nightmare creature: thin, patchy fur, scarred nose, and freaky movements due to the stroke. But she just kept on going. The vet remarked that apparently she was immortal, and I have to admit that I suspected she would live another year or so, because she just wouldn’t give up.
But the other day she started having bouts where she could barely breathe. This terrified her — she would run all around trying to get more air, clearly confused, causing her heart rate to accelerate, which gave her even more trouble breathing. She went on antibiotics and seemed to be getting better… until she wasn’t.
At the end, when she was freaking out, she would climb up onto my shoulder and collapse there, waiting for me to help her. It was heartbreaking.
It was 2am when we took her to an emergency veterinarian to be put down, and I was crying freely as I held my little gasping rat. Apparently this freaked the receptionist out, because grown men aren’t supposed to cry about rodents. I can’t say I’m embarrassed about crying though. She was a good pet and I’ll miss her.
As for the other rats, two of them are completely oblivious, but her friend Margarat has become sullen and depressed by Anna’s absence, and will need a few days to get back to normal. You and me both, Margarat.