It's been a rough 24 hours in the I'm Just A Girl household.
I'm trying to relax a bit (trying being the operative word, as the kiddies are verbally jousting in the background right now. Bedtime can't come soon enough, trust me...) with a glass o 2006 Brunello, waiting to have my pot roast and Patriots game. Sure, a Brunello is a big bottle for a quiet night, but hey, that's just how I roll.
It all started yesterday morning when I went to feed the rat-a-tat-tats. Flake, our little Albino rat felt awfully light... crazy light. And while he jumped up to see me, he was acting like an old man as I gave him his morning food. Now, I noticed that recently Snake our portly rat was hoarding food - but had no idea to what extent. So, given Flake's weak stature and light weight in such a dramatic period of time, I made an appointment to take our little furry friend to the Veterinarian.
Turns out he had something called Maloclussion - where his little jaw doesn't align properly and so his teeth don't naturally grind down well on their own, and they need a little assistance. If not treated properly, it can lead to....starvation, abcesses, infections, etc. I had no clue! We're new rat owners, the pet store certainly didn't tell us what to look for, and while I've read on the internet much about them - outside of the day prior, he didn't seem to not be eating. Actually, he seemed to be eating fine - albeit slowly. Until yesterday...
So off to the vet we go, where she shows us his teeth and he became progressively more lethargic as we were awaiting our appointment; so by the time she saw him she was afraid that he literally wouldn't survive having his teeth cut down. (A common practice in rabbits, guinea pigs and occasionally - rats. I had no clue!! How guilty was I feeling...?!?!?) But fortunately he survived and out he came, full of fluids and antibiotics - with a cautious optomism from the vet suggesting if he could survive the night then there was a good chance he'd make it further.
We kept a watchful eye on him all night. Lots of holding and snuggling to keep his body temperature up, as well as a lamp over his cage. We ended up buying a seperate cage for him so that his buddy Snake wouldn't eat his food; but at 1:15 I couldn't sleep. Princess Petunia had crawled into our bed it seems, and so I snuck out and checked on my little Flakey. He was alive, but clearly not doing well. I held him for about 20 minutes, wrapped in a blanket and talked to him...telling him how much we love him, how sorry I was...how I hope he knows he was loved. I put him back to his bed, and went to my own. G woke up, and I whispered to him "I don't think he's going to make it"....when all of a sudden Princess Petunia sits up and says "what?!?!?!". She starts to cry....and you can only imagine the heartbreak.
I ask her if she wants to go up and see him, and so up we go. We walk in, and he lifts his little head to us....take a few breaths, she tells him she loves him - and then he gasps - and is gone. She bursts into tears - and you guessed it - we're up all night from that point on.
Funeral arrangements were made this morning. In a shoebox, wrapped in a blanket and surrounded by soft fluffy fill - we dug the ground and buried him. My son, Princess Petunia and I each said something about him we loved, and then we said a prayer - and placed rocks and wooden crosses on his little tombstone. Somber times...somber times indeed.
But how do little people rebound?
They buy another rat. This time... we're smarter, wiser. We ask how old he is, and we inspect his teeth before taking him home. Now we know what to look for. This one is younger and smaller....black and white. They named him Pop Tart; his original name was Shake but it became too confusing with Flake, so.... Pop Tart it is.
It's amazing how unconditional love can come in the tiniest of forms....even in the form of a gentle, loving rat. These little creatures want nothing but love - but they give more than they'll ever know. They teach the little people who care for them a sense of responsibility, a respect for a creature so dependent upon their time and attention - and a love that is different from a dog or a cat. It's a nurturing love that's almost parental; and it is an often bittersweet, but invalueable gift that they will hopefully carry with them for the rest of their lives.
(And now, she sips the Brunello.....)