I was taking care of a pet rats, mice, guinea pigs and a cat in this large furry family for a few times. As I always, take photos of a pets I take care of, I was especially thrilled to take a photos of a small animals. I asked the owner Susan V. to write me a story about her pet rodents.

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Here is what she wrote:

Confessions of a Rat Lover

I had wanted a rat for a long time, in fact ever since the 4th grade when we had a pet white rat in our classroom. This desire went dormant for a while until I read an Elizabeth George mystery in which the eventual murder victim had a tame mouse who liked to sit on her shoulder. At that time I had a cat who liked to ride on my shoulders, so what could be more delightful than having a rat inclined to do the same thing. A few years into the new millennium I finally decided to take action, and I saw a rat in Petsmart that won my heart. I told my family that I wanted this rat for Christmas, and I waited impatiently for Christmas to come. Christmas DID come, but not my chosen rat. I made grumbly comments for a while, and then bided my time to ask at Christmas again. No rat came, and I decided it was high time to take matters into my own hands. I called the Humane Society, and yes, they did have a one-year-old rat who had been waiting some time to be adopted. I went down to the Humane Society and thought he was the perfect rat of my dreams. To meet him I had to take him out of the cage on my own because the young volunteer at the Humane Society told me she was afraid to touch him! Not me! I adored him and took him home, naming him Sylvestre because he became mine on New Year’s Eve (which in France is called “la St. Sylvèstre”).

Sylvestre lived in a cage by himself since there were no other rats to adopt and I’d read it was very difficult to introduce unknown rats to each other. That seemed fine with Sylvestre because he deemed me a suitable mate—he seemed to love me, too. I took him out of his cage often to run around the house under my supervision, and whenever I sat with him he would carefully groom himself and then groom ME as well. Soon he decided that he needed a nest somewhere outside of his cage, and he selected a site under my daughter’s former bed. He loved to scrounge around the house for paper and then ran down the hallway to put it in his nest. The pile grew higher and higher and, unbeknownst to me, he added to its luxury by chewing up the yellow blanket that hung down from the bed. In the end his nest was about three feet in diameter and 9 inches high. A massive creation, indeed. When I dismantled it after his death of cancer two years later, it contained such choice items as one of my French assignments, several shopping lists and paper napkins, a missing letter or two, even a few items carefully selected from the trash can in the kitchen! I was heartbroken when Sylvestre died. I wanted to bury him in the garden, but I knew we would be moving to Santa Fe in a couple of months and I didn’t want to leave him behind. The solution: I put him in the freezer and kept him until there until we moved. He made the two-day car trip in a cooler, and we buried him in the pet burying ground we established just outside our coyote fence. Since then he has been joined by two guinea pigs and the two rats we bought at Petsmart after we had settled in Santa Fe.

Caspar and Klaus lived for only two years. They had already begun showing signs of the lung disease that many rats succumb to when we first bought them. That, at least, made it easy to find them when they slipped out an open cage door. All I had to do was listen for little rat sneezes! I caught them every time! Nor did I really need to worry about our elderly cat: She was terrified of them. None of the rats seemed to know that cats were the Enemy. All three liked to come up to her, sniff her, pick up her tail, and so on. She would immediately run and hide.

Rats, unfortunately, live only 2-3 years, and both Casper and Klaus died on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2013. Again I was heartbroken, and my friends suggested that I buy a dog, an animal that tends to last longer. No! I wanted a rat.

While Casper and Klaus were still alive I’d read of Tiny Toes Rat Rescue in Albuquerque. They took in rats that people had just let go in the wild when they got tired of them, rats who were unappreciated and not even fed in the households of animal hoarders, unadopted rats who were due to be euthanized at adoption centers, and even the rats of sensitive and loving people who could no longer keep them for assorted good reasons. When Casper and Klaus died I went to the website of Tiny Toes Rat Rescue (tinytoesrescue.org) and asked for a rat or two . . . or even three. Tiny Toes takes their rats very seriously. Not anyone can adopt one of theirs. The last time I heard, they had more than 100 rats, some of whom are no longer adoptable because of age or illness or behavior. Tiny Toes gives them a home, and no rat is killed unnecessarily. I had to fill out a long application, telling what facilities I had to care for my rats and my experiences with rats. They also asked for three references, people who knew my rats and me who could comment on my suitability as a rat mother. When all was checked I then signed a contract promising (among a variety of other things) not to smoke, which compromises a rat’s weak respiratory system, and not to feed them to snakes or any other animal! I also knew that if I turned out to be an irresponsible owner Tiny Toes would take back their rats rather than leave them to suffer.

The three rats I took home from Tiny Toes had been rescued from a hoard of several hundred dying, neglected, and malnourished rats in Sacramento, California. Tiny Toes drove there and brought home 50 rats, largely mothers and their new litters. My Inky-Dink, Mouse, and McBuff were three baby brothers in one of those litters. Because they knew each other from birth and had been neutered early-on by Tiny Toes, they live happily together in a large cage. They sleep together, eat together, and groom each other. The only things they won’t share is their home-made “rat cookies” and their little squares of Jarlsberg cheese (not cheddar, not gruyere, but JARLSBERG)! I give them each, individually, a tiny piece of cheese, for afternoon tea. Later, I carefully hand one cookie to each every evening for “dessert”. Inky-Dink tried several times to outsmart me and get an extra cookie by hiding the one I’d given him and then showing back up at the door looking woebegone because, alas, he hadn’t gotten a cookie. It never worked, and he quickly gave up, devouring the one cookie he’d hidden. When I clean up their cage in the morning they like to romp in “their” room (my office!) One of the highlights was to dump all of my French and Japanese books from my bookshelves onto the floor. At first I tried putting all of the books back, but then decided just to leave them on the floor, where they stayed for about a year. At the age of a year and a half they are much less adventurous and are often more inclined to sleep in a ratty pile inside their cage than tackling the challenges of academia! They also built a much more modest nest than Sylvestre’s in a corner of their room, which they continue to check out and add to from time to time. Bits of paper strategically placed around “their” room are a particular delight.

I returned from a trip last fall and found an email from the Humane Society, telling me that they had a rat, and would I like to adopt him? Apparently they had jotted down my name as a potential rat owner when I’d contacted them earlier, before I found Tiny Toes. Well, of course I had to take a look at Uther! When I got to the Humane Society I discovered that he was already 2 years and 2 months old, quite elderly for a rat. He had already been up for adoption for 6 weeks, and I worried that at his age it would be difficult to find him a new home. Well, I couldn’t just leave him to be euthanized! I decided to offer him a Retirement Home where he could live out his remaining months and be spoiled as badly as the other three. He’s a sweet little guy, and nine months later he’s still going strong!

I have loved all five of my rats devotedly. They are smart (and sometimes downright wily), cute, clean, affectionate, each a distinct individual, and connoisseurs of the good life. If only they could live for years and years . . .