This article is from the July/Aug. 1991 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
Our Pets & Friends
From Ellen Reed
The man at the pet shop took the lid off the cage, reached in and “stirred” the sleeping baby rats. Most of them stumbled, drowsily around...but one of them sat up, placed one star-shaped paw against the glass, and looked up at us, his expression saying clearly “What?” “That one!” we said, together, and took Sandy McTavish home.
His games didn’t begin until he was big enough to jump down from the counter where his cage sat. He quickly took over the house, choosing a special place under the comer of the couch for his “home away from home,” and a specific floor vent for the hotter days.
The first game we noticed him playing was “Let’s see how much paper we can get under the couch.” Any paper of any size that was on the floor was fair game. Watching him trying to steal a full sheet of newspaper was hysterical.
A variation of this game was “Literary critic.” I used to read manuscripts for a literary agent. I’d sit on the couch with the manuscript next to me. As I read each page, I’d lay it in a stack on the floor...at least, that was my plan. I gave it up when I saw the manuscript pages moving across the floor, headed for the other couch.
’Tavish didn’t restrict his stealing to paper. When my father-in-law sat on the couch to read, McTavish went after the tobacco pouch in Dave’s pocket. Several times, Dave rescued his pouch just before it disappeared under the couch. Frustrated, McTavish stole Dave’s pipe. Dave wouldn’t believe it until we lifted the end of the couch, and there was the pipe.
’Tavish loved our dog, Jessica. He loved crawling on her, and snuggling into her fur. She’s old, and often a little grumpy, and when she’d had enough, she’d grumble, get up, and walk away. McTavish would be running right behind her. You could almost hear him saying “Wheeeee!” This game, of course, was “Vicious rat chases large dog.” When Jessie sat down again, there he’d be.
Jessica did have a game she and ’Tavish played together. Its name would depend on one’s point of view. ’Tavish probably called it “McTavish, the brave rat, puts his head in the giant dog’s mouth.” Jessica could have called it “Dog pretends to bite pushy rat’s head off.” She’d open her jaws over ’Tavish’s head, and pull away as she snapped them shut. They’d do this over and over.
McTavish’s strangest game was “Lickspittle.” He loved licking human saliva. He’d lick the corner of one’s mouth, and, if you opened your mouth, he’d lick inside your lip, stopping now and then to gnaw on your teeth. If you didn’t open your mouth, he’d grab your lip with his paw and pull it open!
One night, I looked into the living room. My husband was lying on the couch, and there sat ’Tavish, holding Chris’s lower lip down, licking away. It was a moment before I realized Chris was sound asleep!
“Sharing Ellen’s coffee” was another ’Tavish game. Sometimes, I’d pour some in a little bowl (after I’d added the sugar and cream, of course), but more often, he’d just come over to my desk, crawl up, and get his own right out of my coffee cup.
One day, a friend was staying with us. She wandered out, poured herself a cup of coffee, and sat down in the den. As I walked toward the bedroom, I saw McTavish running toward her.
A few minutes later, I heard her begin to laugh almost uncontrollably. When I asked why, she said “’Tavish spit in my face!” It took several minutes for her to quit laughing and tell me what had happened. McTavish climbed up to her lap, went over to her coffee and took a big mouthful. Apparently, he doesn’t like his coffee black, because he turned, spit the coffee in her face, and left!
I had a McTavish game that he put up with. It was called “I’m going to get ’Tavish’s tummy!” I’d pick him up and flip him so I could scratch his stomach. He’d usually put up with it for a while and then wiggle out of my grasp.
The most amazing thing about McTavish was his trust of us. When we picked him up, he went absolutely limp, knowing we would never hurt him. I never failed to marvel at this small animal having such faith in what surely seemed to be giants.
It was no game when McTavish developed pneumonia. We were fortunate to find Dr. Clipsham, a gentle, loving vet who put ’Tavish on antibiotics, gave him oxygen, and pulled him through. We took our little friend home, with his medication and a special food designed to build him back up. Two days later, I called and told the vet ’Tavish would eat, but not the fancy food we were supposed to feed him.
“What will he eat?” the doctor asked.
“Steak, potato salad, macaroni, lettuce, and ...” I answered.
“Never mind,” the doctor said. “Let him have anything he wants.”
Dr. Clipsham also said to look for slow, steady, improvement. McTavish never did anything slowly. Within two days of his return home, he was trying to chew his way out of his cage, and ready to roam the house again.
Some months later, however, we took McTavish back to Dr. Clipsham, this time to discover he was suffering from a brain tumor. It was possible, we were told, to keep McTavish alive for another month or so, with pain killers, but we chose not to put our little friend through that. There would be no more games.
Dr. Clipsham left Chris and I alone with Sandy McTavish for a last goodbye, and for McTavish to sit on my shoulder, and lick our lips.
For $1.69, we got over a year and a half of love, laughter, and joy from this little rat. Never have we received so much for such a small investment.
Thank you, ’Tavish.