The Death of a Rat helps a Cat – Other Pets in my Life


I wonder what the poor cats are doing?

I wonder what the poor cats are doing?

As I sit here beginning the writing of this  tale I am in our Phoenix house.  It was my turn to visit and oversee a project.  This time it was the replacement of kitchen counters.  2016 should prove to be a big year of change for us as we plan to sell our CA house on our own, transport a POD to Ohio and pull a trailer to Phoenix.  We hope by the end of the year we are set up for a snowbird lifestyle in our retirement.

Not too long ago, I walked in the door after a three hour bike ride with my oldest boy and then there was the phone call with my wife.  My wife had texted me a sad picture of our dying pet cat Sasha.  We essentially made the decision to put Sasha down at the vet.  It was a difficult conversation and neither of us could speak with any ease due to our trying to hold back the tears (neither of us did a very good job at that).
The aftermath of the conversation eventually brought me here to my iPad where I write my stories.  And so, here I am trying to stay light, trying to share another episode of my life, one linked to something today – pets.  I once wrote a story about the cats in my life.  The link is here if you’d like to peruse it (link).  Like a lot of kids though, we had some different species of pets.
I seem to recall that we once had a babysitter who had a blind pet ferret.  She brought the ferret over to the house maybe 2-3 times.  It was a very friendly animal, but boy did it stink.  It had a very strong ‘musky’ smell to it.  Brenda, (I think her name was), said that she’d given the pet a bath a couple of times before but the smell always came back within just a couple of days.

Did I ever have any pets other than cats or the dog that chewed up our vacuum cleaner (link)?  Well, let’s see – I had a pair of gerbils for a short time.  Luckily they were of the same sex so when they both died, that was that.  Mice….we weren’t so lucky.  I can tell you – mice seem to like sex even more than we humans.  It seemed it was all they did.  In no time at all, two mice begat and then their children begat, this one begat, that one begat – there was a heck of a lot of begattin’ going on.  Friends took a few for pets, but eventually I had to devise a solution.  At one point, I just couldn’t afford to even feed them.
Besides, there’s just not much you can do with pet mice, (they just hate those leashes when you take them for walks).  I’ll tell you another thing too, my brothers didn’t seem to appreciate the night my friend Joe and I snuck up to our room late one night and placed a mouse in bed with each of them.  Joe, (my stepfather), got involved then when he yelled up to find out what the hell was going on and my brother Mike yelled out – “they’re putting rats on us”.
Anyway, I began setting them free.  Yup, you heard me right, I set them free.  I didn’t let them go in the house.  No, as friendly as they were, I don’t think my mom would have looked on that with much favor.  Outside our bedroom window, on the side of our house and next to Mr Mangelcamp’s house was a large collection of some kind of a plant with very large green leaves.  Hmm, mice are light bodied and those leaves look mighty soft.  Let’s try it – bombs away!
T minus 10

T minus 10

And with that, the first ‘mousetronaut’ was dropped out of orbit and into the atmosphere.  After only a couple of seconds, I saw him scurrying around – HA, success!  Dropping #2, bombs away!  Piece of cake, #2 mousetronaut made it safely to the landing zone.  After I saw our outdoor cat prowling around, I decided to spread out the ‘explorations’ two at a time over the course of the next few weeks.  A few weeks later I did spot one of those furry creatures running around those same plants.  They were on their own and I was free of the responsibility.
But while we’re on the topic of rodents, yes – I had a pair of pet rats once.  I’m not sure if I get this right but my stepfather Joe’s family was in Boston and I think it was a niece, (or some other family member), that raised rats.  I don’t recall for what purpose they were raised but one day he brought me home a pair of white rats, both male.  I think I might have been 14 at the time.
I think my mom’s stomach popped up into her mouth the day Joe brought those guys home.  Joe explained to us that they were so friendly that they wouldn’t even bite you accidentally, (unlike micetronauts).  He was right.
Taking care of a rat, I found, was quite a lot of responsibility.  Joe had brought home a big dog cage for them, something that was large enough to give them much more room than any large aquarium would.  We put the cage down in the basement.  I’d bring the rats up every day for handling for the first couple of weeks, either both of them or one at a time.  Joe had said that it was important to handle them on a regular basis just to keep them very familiar with me.  Oh and sure, a couple of times I’d sneak one upstairs to act like it was out on its own.  My mom just loved when I did that.
Rats are easy to feed.  Anything – pet rats will eat anything you give them.  If we ran out of dog food, I’d give them a hot dog or piece of bologna.  If they heard me coming down the basement steps, I’d hear them come running inside the cage and up the wires to the very top, trying to be the first to the food.  Unfortunately for one of the rats, I was not responsible enough to care for these guys and I was the only one in the house who ever thought of them.  So one day after letting them go a little too long after eating, one of them had killed the other.
I was really upset with myself over losing one of those rats.  Joe was right in that they really were intelligent and people-friendly.  They enjoyed coming out to be handled, were always curious about the environment around them, gentle and never once gave an impression of being aggressive.  They were exactly the opposite of their stigma.  I carried that error around with me for quite a long time, maybe forever.  I don’t know; they say that everything we see and do in our lives helps to forge our character, our personality and our behaviors.  I do know that today no one in the house really has to worry about the duties associated with our pets, (including the leopard gecko that my son is supposed to own).  Very rarely will I forget to empty the litter box, change out the water or make sure there’s plenty of pet food at the house.  Several years ago I began putting a neighborhood cat, one who adopted us, into the garage on a nightly basis.  She’s a really good cat and I estimate her age to be around 14 years old.  She’s still pretty agile but the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is only 8 years.  In her older age, I worry perhaps she might get eaten by a coyote (I have seen one in the early hours a few times over the years).
Maybe the death of a rat is helping the life of a cat?  (My feeble attempt to end this story with poetic irony).  🙂
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