This article is from the Apr.–June 1994 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
Our Pets & Friends
By Dawn Kozak
I’ve written other stories about my other rats. I’ve mentioned Eliphas in all of them. This is the story that I’ve always wanted to write but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. If I ever had a best friend, Eliphas was her. Yes, a rat.
In May of 1991 I was feeling a bit lonely. I needed a pet, a friend. I had always had pet mice as a child, but I wanted something bigger. A rat! That would be perfect! I went out to the pet store and purchased all that I would need to give my new friend a comfortable home. I then was taken into the back of the store where the rats were kept. Of course they sold them mainly as feeders and that’s why they were kept out of sight. I chose a pretty Beige Hooded female, whom I named Eliphas.
Eliphas was a sweetheart straight from the beginning. She always made friends fast. My roommate even liked her. I introduced her to some of the kids around the town house complex. That’s when she started getting more visitors than me. I even had a boyfriend that couldn’t stand “rodents,” who fell absolutely in love with her.
Whenever I was at home Eliphas would be out with me. Sometimes we even went to “grandma’s” house together. Grandma was starting to get used to the idea of having a rat for a grand?rat. Boy, the looks we got driving down the road with Eliphas on my shoulder! But she loved it.
I always liked to read in the evening or write in my journal. Eli would be on the bed with me. There were times when she did her own thing, but there were the times when she’d rather play. Especially when I was at the best part in a book, or was really into writing a thought down. She’d sit on my book, or she’d try to turn a page before I was finished with it. She’d take my pen away from me, or nibble at the pages of my journal. She’d just love to play hide-and-seek between the pillows. We both got a kick out of that! She could always make me smile. Even on my worst days.
July, Eliphas and I had to find a new home. We found a cute little flat in a really nice neighborhood. To make our move more enjoyable for both of us, I bought Eli a 20-gallon tank instead of her small 10. She really didn’t like it at first; she preferred to be out all of the time. When I was home she was. We had some great nights together. We got pretty close during that move. She slept on the bed with me at night. I kept a fresh towel in her favorite spot, to keep my sheet dry in case of “emergencies.” She’d spend all night gnawing the corners off all of my pillow cases. And I had six pillows on the bed! All now have no corners on the pillow cases! At least I have matching sets! If people ask about them I say that a modern abstract pillow-case maker designed them personally.
Being alone, or semi-alone, I got into the bad habit of eating snacks in bed. (I didn’t have any other furniture anyway.) If I had a bag of potato chips, Eli would sneak her head in the bag and take one. She’d take it back to her little hide away under the pillows and eat it. She’d then come for seconds. Only seconds it wasn’t! She wouldn’t stop until half the bag (that’s when I’d stop her) was under the pillow with her! I found it so entertaining, that I couldn’t make her stop. I’m sure she’d wonder how she could work so hard only to find that there were no chips in her hide-away when we were all done. Goldfish crackers were another one of our favorites. I didn’t like to share them as much because I liked them better. She knew this. I’d be lying on my back reading a book, eating my snack quietly so that Eli wouldn’t know. Who was I fooling!? Not Eliphas. She’d come flying out from under those pillows and sit directly in front of my book and look me in the eye. I’d have to surrender a cracker or two. But one or two was never enough for Eli. And if I wasn’t planning on giving her any more, she’d take some. She would literally pry my lips open and take that cracker. She was quite the character!
One time during one of our hide-and-seek games, Eli was too slow and I caught her. I let her go and stuck my tongue out at her. Boy, if a rat’s eyes could widen! She was curious about this new looking thing. So I stuck my tongue out at her a couple more times. She just sat there kind of dumb founded. But... I think she was scheming. The last time I stuck my tongue out at her she lunged forward and bit it! She let me know who “got” whom! Needless to say, I never stuck my tongue out at her again.
It was because of Eli that I made new friends in our new home. The people downstairs found out that I had a rat and came up for a visit. From that day on when they had friends over they brought them upstairs to meet me and Eliphas.
Now that we were all settled in, I thought it would be nice to get a couple more companions for Eliphas. That way she wouldn’t be lonely when I was at work. So off to the pet store I went. I came home with Keeneau, a beautiful Agouti male, Amethyst, a black and white Hooded female, Levi, a PEW, and Diamond, a black and white Hooded female. And a new 35-gallon tank.
Eliphas didn’t like the newcomers at first. She didn’t plan on sharing my affections. So still, all in all, Eliphas always got the most attention. I made it clear to her that she was my favorite. So she settled down and accepted the newcomers, knowing that she’d be the one out all the time.
October 10, 1991, Eliphas had 17 babies! I didn’t even know she was pregnant! I thought all our snacks were finally catching up to her. I had another female, Diamond, who had given birth 5 days earlier to a litter of eight. This was all new to me. But the book said 8-12 babies. When I saw 17, I was just so shocked! I called the pet store and asked what I should do. They told me that I should give the other mother some of Eliphas’s babies because she wasn’t going to be able to nurse them all. So I did. Diamond got 4 more babies, and accepted them with kindness.
I decided to go out and buy another 35-gallon tank for Eliphas and her babies. She was presently still in her 20 gallon. Well, that move did not go well! I made sure to pick the babies up with paper towel, but it didn’t seem to matter. After the aquarium was set up and the babies put in, I put Eliphas in. She threw a fit! She started throwing the babies around, pressing them up against the glass, and digging her head in the bedding. She jumped up to the rim of the tank, I went to pet her, and she bit me. This was the first time that Eli had ever purposely meant to bite me. My feelings were so hurt. I just decided to leave the room and let her get it out.
The next evening at play time, I noticed that Eliphas had a swollen eye. Her right eye looked like a protruding glass marble! I took her to the vet the next day. I told the vet how she acted when I switched cages. He told me that she probably scratched her eye when she was digging her head in the bedding. He put her on drops and said that it should clear up within a couple of weeks.
A couple of weeks passed and the swelling had not gone down. It was time to find a second opinion. I called all over looking for someone who might know a little about rats. I found a man that said he would look at her. I took her in, he looked at her eye with a scope, put some drops in and then looked again. He left the room and came back with a book. He told me that he was going to diagnose this as glaucoma. He showed me his book, that rats can get glaucoma, etc., etc. I don’t know how much I really heard or understood, all I know is that I was devastated. He said that we could have the eye removed now or wait. If we were to wait, he told me of the possibility of eye ulcers. He said that could be painful. He gave me drops to put in her eyes. As the weeks went by it became hard for Eliphas to close her eye. Yes, I opted to put the surgery off until it was totally necessary. It became totally necessary at this point. Her not being able to shut her eye was making it very dry and hard.
We went in for the surgery. I was never such a mess in my life!
The surgery was successful! The vet told me that her eyeball was as hard as a rock. He told me to keep the collar on so that she wouldn’t get at her stitches. So a collared Eliphas and I went home. She was happy to go home, but not happy to be in that collar. And to prove it, she managed to wiggle out of it as I was holding her. Then she decided to remove her stitches! This all happened in a matter of seconds. There was no way I could have prevented it. There was blood every where. I called the vet. He had already left the office. I called him at home. He had just walked in the door. I told him that Eli had ripped her stitches out. I think he was kind of angry and reluctant, but he told me to meet him back at the office.
The vet told me that I would have to help him since there was no one else working. I said okay. He put Eliphas in the tank to give her the gas to knock her out. Soon as I saw Eli fall down, I fell down. Needless to say, I was no help sitting in another room!
Eliphas still managed to get at her stitches. We bandaged her feet up so that she couldn’t scratch at them. I made homemade extensions on her collar. One time I made it so big that when she started to walk, it ended up as kind of a tepee. She was stuck, face on the floor. So I had to make it a little smaller.
She lost a lot of weight wearing that collar. I’d peel the sunflower seeds for her since she couldn’t. It took a long time for her eye to heal. It wasn’t until I put Keeneau in with her that she got better. He took real good care of her. He’d clean her eye and watch over her. It was almost 5–6 weeks before Eliphas returned to the rest of the rat population.
At first I thought everyone would pick on her. But they didn’t. And again she took her place as Queen Eliphas. She didn’t have any of the problems that I thought she would with that one eye. Everything was back to normal. Well, almost.
Now Eliphas had a different kind of attitude. She decided that she didn’t like anyone but me. She’d bite all other human fingers. This didn’t make her too likable to others. But she was still my precious best friend. She still got her special treatment. Soon as I’d walk in the door from work, Eli would be on the bed with me. She loved her pillows. And we were still inseparable.
As time went on Eliphas developed a mammary tumor under one of her forearms. It grew. Not to the extent of really hindering or bothering her. I might have made the wrong choice of deciding not to have it removed. She had already been through so much. As more time passed, Eliphas got worse. She lost so much weight, she lost almost all of her hair. She had also developed bumble foot. She wasn’t getting around like she should. The whole month of March 1993 I went to work and only work. I didn’t go anywhere else. I’d go home at lunch every day just to check on her. She’d eat for me, and she still enjoyed my attention. I just couldn’t lose my girl. But I was.
The last month of her life, Eliphas spent on the loveseat next to my bed. That is if she wasn’t in the bed with me. I had made a tent on the loveseat for her to sleep in. She had her food dish there, but she couldn’t use the water bottle anymore. She’d always spill the little dish of water that I left out. So we worked out a plan. She would scratch the side of the couch when she was thirsty. I would then take the water bottle over to her so she could drink. We really had great communications. I barely slept that month so that I would hear her if she needed me. I’d check on her every hour with a flashlight I kept under my pillow. It was incredible how she hung onto life. I believe she was hanging onto me. She knew that I needed her. One day I came home from work and found that her other eye was bloody looking. I was again devastated. I decided that it was time to let her rest.
I called my vet on a Friday at 4:45 P.M. (a new vet now.) I talked to the receptionist who knew me and my kids well. I explained the situation to her. She said that the Doctor was busy and that he’d call me right back. He never did. When I called back at 5:30, the vet had left, and the office was closed. But he did leave a message for me. The message was that he’d be glad to put her to sleep on Monday for $10. I couldn’t believe how uncompassionate this Doctor could be. He knew how much Eliphas meant to me. He knew that I only lived 5 minutes away! I was so hurt. My little girl was hurting!
I didn’t know what to do. Eliphas and I stayed in bed all weekend. I fed her, but I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t realize that a person could hold so many tears!
Sunday afternoon a friend stopped by who knew what was happening. He told me that I had to at least go out and eat something. He eventually talked me into it. I was gone no longer than 45 minutes. It appeared that Eliphas had a stroke. She couldn’t even lift up from her side. I found an emergency vet clinic near me and took her in. With the help of my friend to drive of course, there was no way I’d be able to see through the tears.
Eliphas went quickly. The people at the emergency clinic were so very kind. That helped. But nothing really helps losing your best friend. I felt so empty. So sad.
I took that Monday off and had Eliphas cremated. I found the most beautiful bottle that would make her final resting place. It fit her. Beautiful. The caretaker of the cemetery let me stay. He showed me how clean the crematory was, and that I could be guaranteed I will only have Eliphas’s remains. He was very understanding of my loss. He said that he didn’t even think it was strange that I was bringing a rat in, though I think he probably did.
I will always have the remains of Eliphas with me, as well as all of our wonderful memories. Her urn sits in a beautifully hand-crafted custom-designed antique-glass pyramid with her name etched in the glass. She now watches over me and the rest of the animals. And I’m sure she’s with her children who have also passed on as of late, taking care of them.
Eliphas was, and always will be, my best friend. I’ll never forget that girl. All the hard times she helped me through. She was and is my inspiration. It was because of her that I found AFRMA. It was because of her that I decided to educate other people about rats. And I’ve made a lot of people rat lovers.
I owe everything I’ve ever learned to Eliphas. Well, the initiative to educate myself that is. It made it a lot easier with AFRMA and the other rat clubs that I belong to. I thank everybody so much. But most of all, I thank ELIPHAS! All my love to you Eli-B!