This article is from the Sep.-Dec. 1994 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
Our Pets & Friends
Freckles, “The Trooper”
From Donna Borok Moss, San Rafael, CA
In the Spring of 1991, a litter of baby rats was brought into our Humane Society where I am a volunteer. At about the same time they were being put up for adoption, our Education Director was looking for a couple of new rats for the Shelter’s Education program. For many years, small caged pets were used in this program whereby they would greet visitors to the Shelter and travel to local classrooms as ambassadors of goodwill.
It seemed that two baby girls caught the Director’s eye, and thus Freckles and Spreckles began their new career! Freckles and Spreckles moved into their new digs in a nice big “Rat Condo” in the Education Room.
Donna with her Christmas rats Freckles (R) and Spreckles. Photo from Donna Borok Moss.
It was when Freckles and Spreckles came to the Ed Room, that I became involved with them. At that time, I was one of the assistants who helped with the Beencies program, whereby young children learned about different animals. The hour usually began with some play time with Freckles and Spreckles—the children loved the rats and of course, the rats loved the attention and the play time! I had become known as the “Rat Lady” because of my great love for the critters and because it was my job to socialize the small caged animals (like rats, guinea pigs and rabbits). And everyone knew rats were my favorites!
Last summer, a decision was made to no longer keep these animals in the Education program. Because of budget cuts and in the interest of the animals’ well-being, it was decided to find new homes for the Education critters. I immediately adopted Freckles and Spreckles with the understanding that they would be available to be brought back to the Shelter whenever they were needed for a “working day,” i.e. a visit to a classroom or a special event. And thus Freckles and Spreckles came home to our house and took up residence with me, my husband, our dog, cat, and our two other rats.
When Freckles and Spreckles came home after “working” at last year’s Summer Camp, I noticed that Freckles had developed a small tumor. Freckles was getting older, she was already 2½ years old and I was quite concerned. I took her to our vet and he thought Freckles could make it through the surgery required to remove the tumor. And thus began Freckles’ long journey through various ailments that would earn her the name, “The Trooper.” It was almost as though she borrowed nine lives from some cat—and she certainly used them!
Her surgery lasted longer than expected, because there were actually two tumors to remove. Dr. Moore was very concerned about her having been under the anesthesia for so long and so he took Freckles home with him that night, keeping an all night vigil on her. It took her an awfully long time to come out from under the anesthesia, and for a while, her prospects didn’t look too good. But within a couple of days, she recovered and soon started feeling better.
When she came home, she did not like being by herself in her own “recovery” cage. She was lonely, depressed and wanted to be with Spreckles. Her appetite diminished, and unless I hand fed her, she wouldn’t eat. Then about a week after the surgery, she developed an upper respiratory infection. Now she had to take antibiotics to help clear up the bug.
Within a couple of weeks, she was ready to move back into her old cage along with Spreckles. Freckles perked up immediately! She started eating again and acting like her old self. But what she now ate was limited; she’d only eat soft foods! She couldn’t be bothered with her crunchy food—it was too much trouble to chew. And so I began feeding her “old lady” food. Her new diet consisted of oatmeal (with maple syrup, of course), cottage cheese and toast, and baby food (the chicken/rice was a big favorite)! And I faithfully fed her by hand several times a day—she would never eat out of any bowl or dish!
And now another slight problem developed. Because she was no longer munching on crunchy food, her teeth began getting too long! When they got so long that they began to interfere, it was time to go back to see the vet for a “tooth trimming” session.
Freckles continued on with this routine for several months—only eating when I fed her off my finger—but she was still sniffling and sneezing and wheezing. To keep the sneezes under control, I gave her a course of antibiotic/steroid shots that lasted four days each month. It seemed to help.
But about the strangest thing that ever happened to Freckles was one night, we noticed a mass of flesh hanging from her back end. It had us quite panicked, and when we took her to the vet, he told us she had suffered a prolapsed uterus—which is almost unheard of in rats! He snipped off the mass, and stitched her up - and she was fine. But she was truly earning her reputation as “The Trooper.”
This past February, Freckles finally succumbed to her varying ailments. Spreckles lived out her days until this past May, when she, too, finally passed away at 3 years of age. They were both good educators, great friends, and will always be remembered. But no rat will ever come close to Freckle’s reputation as “The Trooper.”
September 1, 1992, to October 30, 1994
From Art & Laura Olderich, Ontario, CA (as told by Art Olderich)
October 30, 1994. We have just said goodbye to Sniffy for the last time. This story is our tribute to the little Personality whom we grew to love and cherish so much. We said goodbye to her at the Animal Emergency Care Clinic this afternoon. The little two-year-old female will soon be in the company of many other little personalities and will romp forever with them. For now, our memories return to the time we spent with her.
In September of 1992 we had just lost the second of a pair of rats we called Ratsuit and Squeeka. These two impish characters were raised together, both females, in the same cage. They were like bookends and were constantly together. We have many happy memories of these two but this story is a tribute to Sniffy and we want to reserve the space here for her. Suffice it to say that the loss of our two “bookends” led us to a local pet store in search of a couple of new little characters to share our home with.
We had such good fortune with females that we decided to get two more females. On September 25, 1992, we headed out to find a new pair. The pet shop we visited had a very young, new crop of rats who seemed to be barely weaned. The young store clerk assured us that we had selected two females and so we headed for home with our new pair of friends.
We had scrubbed the same cage that Ratsuit and Squeeka had lived so well in for nearly 2 years and prepared to welcome our new pair of females. All went well for the first few days. One of the two we named Treasure Leanne and the other was named Sniffer Louise (later, but we are not sure exactly when, her name seemed to evolve to just Sniffy). After 2 or so weeks, much to our surprise, we discovered that Treasure Leanne needed to be renamed Treasure Leon! We had taken home a male and a female.
We immediately found ourselves in the horns of a dilemma. We acquired a second cage to discourage romance and set our minds to the possibility of raising two rats separately. Two was all we wanted and we knew how many we could end up with if separate quarters were not provided.
We soon discovered how messy little boy rats can be. Treasure Leon seemed to tear around in his cage and leave everything in a huge mess. We were used to the more sedate female ways and just could not adjust to the more aggressive male ways. So, off to the pet store we went with Treasure Leon. We really wanted another female to duplicate the good times we had with our original two imps. A trade-in was needed and the store was accommodating. We rushed home with the new Treasure Leanne (same name, different rat!).
Again, all seemed to go well. We introduced the new bookend to the already in place bookend and they romped together and curled to sleep together just as we remembered Ratsuit and Squeeka had. A few days later, again to our utter surprise, we discovered that the astute store clerk had slipped another male into our female’s domain. Was it a ploy to add more rats to our world? We decided that it was time to have Sniffy enjoy the world of a Single Rat. Through a series of chance mistakes, Sniffy came to enjoy the undivided love and attention (and too many treats) that only a Single Rat can experience when in the company of a couple of humans who think rats make great pets! Treasure Leon II was returned to the pet store.
As we settled in to our life with Sniffy, we began to notice how much of a personable rat she was. While Ratsuit and Squeeka had their moments, they did not bond with us as quickly or as surely as did Sniffy. Of course, Sniffy, as a Single Rat, was getting twice the quality time as did the two previous tenants in the cage.
Sniffy was frequently taken out of her cage and put on the bed with us at night while we watched TV or read. What she soon made clear to us was that she wanted our full attention. While I spend more time watching TV, Laura prefers to read. However, Sniffy preferred that she not read. While trying to read her book, Laura was routinely interrupted by a rat who managed to place herself between Laura and the written page. It was as if Sniffy was saying... “I am here now, put the book down and pay attention to me!”
As a young rat, we delighted in watching Sniffy perform her acrobatic acts in her cage. She climbed all around the cage and spent much time climbing upside-down from the top of the cage. She was quite the young, athletic rodent.
Sniffy got treats, she really got too many treats. We knew we were spoiling her, but she seemed to be such a happy rat and she was a real pal for us. Prior to our recent move, our home was a two-story home. Sniffy’s cage was in our upstairs bedroom and we referred to the location of her cage as “Sniffy’s Alcove.” As either Laura or myself came up the stairs, we could see into the bedroom and we could clearly see Sniff’s cage. As soon as she would hear either of us heading up the stairs, Sniffy would stand excitedly at the side of the cage (same spot every time) and wait for us to arrive.
She always seemed genuinely excited to see us and perhaps she sensed that we felt the same. We talked to her and frequently said her name. As time went on, she seemed to know her name. However, she may have just been responding to the tone of our voices. We prefer to believe that she knew her name and dismiss rat conditioning as reserved for the laboratory and not applicable to our personable little friend.
She would run excitedly to the edge of the bed toward Laura. Laura would clap her hands and call Sniffy. We knew, as the caretakers of the little creature, that we probably attributed knowledge and capabilities beyond what actually existed. However, we reserve the right to do so since we were her “parents.”
Sniffy would respond to Laura’s call for a “kiss” and would brush Laura’s lips with her nose. This seemed particularly endearing to us and led us to conclude that this little one was very special and very affectionate. Sniffy frequently licked our hands for long periods, a trait we attributed again to the personable nature she displayed.
And, with regard to her personal habits, Sniffy never had an “accident” while outside of her cage. We attributed this to Sniffy’s dainty and dignified personality and her “ladylike” manner. For a little over 2 years, Sniffy displayed all of these traits and behaviors and remained alert, healthy, and happy.
As we mentioned, Sniffy got treats. As a matter of routine, she would get a Small Animal Waffle in the evening. The box of waffles was located approximately 10 feet from her cage. As soon as one of us went to the box and began opening it, Sniffy would stand and cling to the side of her cage (again always at the same spot). She knew the waffle was about to arrive. This routine was followed for her entire life with us.
She delighted in eating peanuts and banana chips. We fed her commercial rodent mix which contained these foods. It is only now that we realize that Sniffy’s diet was too high in fat. She gained weight. Thanks to AFRMA publications, we are more aware now of the need to maintain a proper diet which is lower in fat content.
We used cage bedding with chlorophyll. We now know that this was not the best idea. While Sniffy’s cage was changed and cleaned frequently, the chlorophyll was probably damaging to her. We wish we had joined AFRMA sooner and had learned these important facts.
Sniffy remained an active lady up until about 1 week before I wrote this story. She continued to stand in her spot and would “kiss” us when we asked her to. But she suddenly began to lose her ability to do much of anything.
The first thing we noticed was her inability to maintain her balance and a general weakness. She lost interest in food and seemed to be fading rapidly. After one day of this we knew it was time to take her to the vet. At nearly midnight, we headed to the Emergency Care Pet Clinic.
The vet examined Sniffy. He listened to her heart and felt her plump body. He remarked that she was overweight. We felt guilty for not having known sooner that she should have been fed a diet lower in fat content. The diagnosis was respiratory infection. We were given a vial of antibiotics and instructed to inject Sniffy twice a day.
We brought our little friend home and began therapy. As a diabetic for many years, giving Sniffy the injection was not difficult. In fact, I opted to use my micro-fine insulin syringes which are barely felt and which are lubricated for ease of injection. It went well and I managed to inject her twice. She barely squeaked and I felt that she was tolerating the injection with little difficulty. We began feeling hopeful for her recovery.
However, after another day passed, Sniffy began to further decline. She lost the ability to use her front paws and we had to hand feed her and help her drink. We called the clinic and they told us to bring her back in.
She spent a night at the clinic so that she could be closely monitored and would be fed and hydrated. We spent an anxious night wondering about our little friend. The next day we spoke with the vet on the telephone. The news was not good and the tears began to well up in both of us. Sniffy was critical and the prognosis was poor. We were asked to make the most painful decision any lover of such an innocent little creature can make. Sniffy might well be suffering and her quality of life had seriously deteriorated. We were not ready to say goodbye but knew that we must. The diagnosis was uncertain, but her fate was not.
Laura’s father, a well respected Professor at the University of California, when told of Sniffy’s decline remarked...“I don’t like most people as much as I have liked some rats.” As a young girl Laura had rats as pets, but her entire family grew to love the little creatures. Laura’s father was always handed the task of taking the sick and dying ones to the vet. He admitted that he cried in every instance when one of the little personalities left forever.
On Sunday, October 30, 1994, we went back to the Emergency Animal Care Clinic to say goodbye to Sniffy. Both of us were in terrible shape. We cried rivers of tears as we held our little friend who looked so frail and tired.
Sniffy, in what we choose to believe was her way of communicating her love for us and her joy in seeing us after spending the night in such a strange place, made a grinding sound with her teeth. This sound we believe was a sound of contentment at being near us again. Sadly, this reunion was short and final. We handed her back to the technician and quickly left in a well of emotions.
We said goodbye to Sniffy for the last time. We had always said goodbye to her in the morning as we left for work. This goodbye touched our souls for we knew the finality of it all. She was to be put painlessly to sleep. We said goodbye to her but will never forget her. The memories of her will linger, the likes of her shall not pass our way again.