This article is from the Jan.-Mar. 1994 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
Our Pets & Friends
Baby Cakes: A rat story with a happy ending!
From “Baby Cakes Bromerek,” Portage, WI
My name is Baby Cakes. I am a Black Bareback, a former laboratory rat (Long-Evans is my lab species) and I am 3½ years old! I have had a good life here at Pat and Mike Bromberek’s home and even though I am old, I have a lot of livin’ to do yet! My eyesight isn’t as sharp and my mobility is limited (I can’t use my hind legs anymore, but I sure can scoot around anywhere by using my forearms to propel me to my destinations!). I live in a 10-gallon aquarium now. I guess you can call it a “retirement home.” Age has not curbed my appetite any. Why, I eat everything with the same gusto I did when I was a youngster! I am happy and content in my golden years, but what saddens me the most is outliving my former cagemates who all have departed to the “Big Place in the Sky” called Rat Heaven (it’s got to be big!), but this is what happens when you live a long time. Anyway, enough of my prattling like an old lady and on with my story.
Pat, who works at a rat-rearing facility as a colony manager had the Long-Evans breeding colony in 1990. It was during weaning that Pat spotted me—a Bareback! Of course I needed a companion so my sister, Sweetheart, a Black Hooded with a thick full length vertical stripe, was set aside along with me to be taken home. But not right away. First we were going to be spayed, because once we came to live at Pat and Mike’s we were going to be placed in a huge cage with boy rats—Spiker, D’Tail, and Isadore. The surgeries went fine and Pat took us home the same day. Our ovaries were removed from the lower back and not the abdomen because we could not reach the staples that held our incision closed...or so they thought. I woke up first, and after the grogginess from surgery wore off, I felt great! My sister still was sleeping. Pat put us in separate cages so we couldn’t pick each other’s staples off. She checked in on us periodically to make sure we were okay. I was great! I was feeling so energetic! I could feel the staples (two of them) on my incision and frankly, they bothered me, so I decided to do something about this problem and I did! I couldn’t reach the staples to pry them off but I realized if I pulled the skin by the staples hard enough I might be able to pop them off. I decided to go for it—the staples really began to feel uncomfortable—and I nearly succeeded. The incision was separated, but the staples were still attached but only on one side of the skin! When Pat checks in on us and sees what I did...?! Sweetheart still was asleep. A panic flooded through me and I couldn’t repair the damage I did to myself. Sweetheart began to stir. Boy I wish I was as good as Sweetheart. I wouldn’t be in this mess! Pat came in to check and nearly passed out when she saw me with my incision wide open! Quickly she took me out and after looking at what I did, couldn’t believe what she saw.
Thanksgiving was the next day and trying to get a veterinarian to see me may be difficult (it was after 9:00 P.M. when Pat discovered me). She got in touch with their vet and explained the situation. The vet didn’t think it was an emergency and asked if Pat had a tube of Super Glue. She said yes quite perplexed—Super Glue? The vet then described cleansing the incision thoroughly, applying a thin coat of Super Glue by the incision, then gently clamping the incision for a few seconds so it sticks together. If any problems did occur, to call back and we’d go to the office. The vet did indicate to call back and report how it went. Mike held me while Pat cleaned my incision. The Super Glue was applied and in seconds my incision was sealed. Only problem now was that Pat could not unglue her fingers from my incision! Now what?! Here I am dangling by my glued incision on Pat’s fingers! She couldn’t pry me off—too big a risk to tear skin and the incision. Mike got a Q-tip saturated with nail polish remover and applied this by Pat’s glued fingers. It worked and I plopped onto the table. I was fine and my incision was still glued together.
I healed normally and the staples popped off after 10 days from surgery (this is what they’re supposed to do). Sweetheart healed normally also but not with the excitement I generated! When we were all healed up we met the boys and life was great. But alas, we with such short life spans go first and all of a sudden I was the only one left. Tumors claimed the boys at 2½ years and an abscess took Sweetheart last February. I was placed with another old rat, Weasel. He passed away last June, but my companionship made his last days happy ones. Then there was Zeus who, like me, outlived all his cagemates. We got along great. He was so attentive and liked to snuggle a lot. But he too, developed health problems and passed away in September of last year. I was soo depressed. I just didn’t want to live anymore. So I quit eating and just slept a lot. Pat and Mike were very worried about me. They held me a lot, talked to me constantly, “You’re not going to die. We love you!” I developed pneumonia. Somehow Pat pulled me through this ordeal, or maybe I made the difference in living or dying. I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I began to eat heartily again and you know what, I’m glad I did not give up the will to live! Yes, I am old, but I have a lot to give because my two care givers, Pat and Mike, love me and my presence here is happiness to them.
So this is the rat story with a happy ending. I am 3½ years old, still full of life, and around to tell my story to you!
P.S. Pat cautions on using Super Glue on incisions unless recommended by a vet (our situation was sort of an emergency).
October 10, 1991–July 30, 1993
From Dawn Kozak, Warren, MI
It seems that all the stories I need to tell are after one of my friends has passed away. I guess my feelings of loss intensify as I realize just how much I really miss them. When I find myself with more passing thoughts of “the really special ones”.
My first colony will always be my dearest. They are the ones that have impacted my life the most. The ones that showed me how much of a friend an animal can be, what a gift it is to have them in my life—to have had them in my life.
I had 16 in my first colony. I have three remaining, one barely hanging on. Each and every one were and are so very special. I could tell stories for days! We went through a lot of changes together. Sometimes I think they are who held me together. They were my little “people”.
Spot was one of these special rats/people. But I only realize just how much after she’s gone. Which I think makes me feel even worse at times.
Spot, named that because she had a white spot in the middle of her agouti hooded head, was a sweet heart. She was a very friendly rat. Although at the time she wasn’t one of my most favorites. I loved them all, but yes, I was guilty of paying more attention to some of the others.
My rats have never been locked up. They were not on the floor except at play time. Unless someone pushed them off of their second floor that is. I had and still have four large aquariums put together as their first floor, and a second floor made out of wood at times and sometimes formica. The second floor had boxes and other little houses for them to hide, sleep, and play in.
When I was home they would spend their time hanging over the second floor for my attention. Which they got non-stop. I have a very small upper flat, so their cages take up a third of my living room. And that’s where I’m usually at. I never minded giving them attention, or just watching them play. They were all hand friendly. Loved to be petted. Some I didn’t hold as much as others. Spot was one of these. She loved attention, but was a squirmer if you tried to hold her.
I got into the bad habit of feeding them butter cookies for a bedtime snack. They loved their butter cookies! They’d all take their piece of cookie and run off and eat it. Spot would take hers and lay it down next to her side and just let me pet her. These were the times that she got me all to herself. They didn’t last for more than a couple minutes though as everyone had finished and was back up begging for more cookies. Usually taking her piece! But she knew I’d sneak her another cookie when no one else was watching.
I started having a problem with mammary tumors showing up on a lot of my girls. Spot developed something else. She had a black growth show up on her back, I guess you would call it the tail- set-on. It looked sort of like an olive. One day while cleaning their corner and rat things I noticed a black substance all over the walls and one of the houses. I immediately checked everyone. The growth on Spot’s back had opened up and was draining this black stuff. I took her to the vet, who told me that Spot had skin cancer. There was nothing he could do because of where it was at. I just had to watch her. It would drain sometimes, and look better at other times. She didn’t appear to be suffering. Just a little messy.
Spot did okay with that growth. She was around for a while. We battled respiratory infections, other tumors, both mammary and fatty, even lice once (I brought in new rats from Virginia and didn’t know that I should have quarantined them. I was learning. Boy was I!) We made it through all the rough times.
Spot tended to be one that got the respiratory infections a lot worse than the others. So sometimes she’d wheeze. I have to admit that Spot wasn’t one of the most attractive of rats. Not only because of that ugly black spot that would ooze, but she looked deformed from her other tumors. Two that made it look like she had udders. But boy was she a sweety.
Near the end, I would always find Spot on the floor. I thought that the others were pushing her off. She had never been a jumper before. This happened quite frequently. She really wasn’t looking so good.
I started paying more attention to her. It’s funny how things work. Like deciding to wait to get really close to her when I was so close to losing her. But she did seem to like the extra attention. And her spirits did seem to perk up.
It didn’t seem that I was able to keep her up with the other rats. SheI was jumping down. More like letting herself flop to the floor. I have the “sick rat” couch in my bedroom. That’s where all my little “sickies” get to stay until they’re well. Well, that’s where I put her. But she didn’t seem to like that either. The only place she seemed content was my lap. But I couldn’t be with her 24 hours. So I just let her go wherever she wanted.
The night before Spot died I think she knew it was her time. She looked at me and knew, with that look she let me know. I picked her up and we went to the “sick couch.” She kept running to the end of the couch. I knelt down at the side of the couch and started talking to her. That little girl ran up to me and gave me the biggest and longest rat hug I’ve ever gotten. She put her front paws on my shoulder and laid her head down. If I didn’t know any better I’d swear that she was crying with me. We stayed like that for 20 minutes. We were so close at that moment. I felt so sad.
She didn’t seem to want to stay on the “sick couch” so I put her back with the others. In the morning I found her sitting on the arm of the living room couch. She definitely didn’t want to be with the others. I took her back to the bedroom and put her on the couch. I gave her some fresh food, a big hug and kiss, and told her I loved her. I had to leave for work. I closed the bedroom door when I left so that I would know I’d find her in there when I came home. I knew she’d jump off that couch.
I thought about Spot all day at work. I couldn’t wait to get home to her. But then again I was afraid to go home and find that she had passed away. When I did finally go home, Spot had passed away. But not before jumping off that couch and making her way across the room, to make her final resting home on the pajamas that I had worn the night before. The ones I wore when we shared that great hug. That made me cry all the harder. I felt she was looking for me, and I wasn’t there for her. But I really think that she knew I was. In some way. Maybe that was her way of saying goodbye. Maybe it was her way of saying that she loved me too.
It’s so hard to lose any of my rats. Every time I cry. People ask if I just get used to it, being that I have so many. I’ll never get use to it. How could I. They’re my family. But I will always cherish the love that they showed me. At least I’ll always have that.