This article is from the Holiday 1997 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Nancy Ferris
It was a Sunday like most of my Sundays lately. The day before I had spent all day and into the evening at Karen’s working on the newsletter and sitting in on the rat training session, so I was planning on spending the day cleaning a few cages, grooming my dogs, and laundry. I found I needed to get some peanut butter dog biscuits that I give my rats and mice as a treat. Wal Mart carries them cheaper than anywhere else, so I decided to go out and replenish my supply. On my way I stopped at Petco just to look. I have always loved browsing through pet stores (the subject of another article). I made my rounds through the store and of course stopped by the rodent display. I am always looking for Black Hoodeds as they are a sentimental favorite with me dating back to when I was in the fifth grade. I had just gotten a Black Hooded female the previous weekend with the intention of breeding her to Nichole’s Lilac Hooded, Max.
As I approached the display, I immediately saw a little Black Variegated baby with lots of spots on his back that were very well broken up. His head marking wasn’t very good — a crooked blaze ran down his head splitting it in half, and going down the other side of his face giving him a comical look. I was fascinated. He had just been served a big bowl of grain, and he was happily scampering all over his cage grabbing at his food, then darting off again. I watched him for awhile and thought of every reason why I shouldn’t get him. Don’t buy from pet shops, you don’t know where they’ve been or what kind of conditions they were bred in. I had no intentions of working with Variegated. I had a litter of Merles due in a week, I certainly didn’t need another rat. BUT those spots are awfully nice. Maybe I should pick him up anyway and maybe someone will want to work with him.
The more I watched him, the more I was coming under his spell. Since the store was very busy and I still had to go to Wal Mart, I decided to go do my errands and come back. Maybe by then I would have talked myself out of getting him.
After I left Petco, I couldn’t get the little guy out of my mind. I hurried and got my dog biscuits and came back. The store was even busier doing one of their photo days, so I was beginning to wonder how I would even get someone to help me. Then a mother and her teenage daughter came over to the display and talked about getting a rat. That did it. They weren’t going to get this rat. They were looking at the older ones. They managed to get someone to help then and when they were done, I pointed to the little spotted guy and said, “That one.” He was placed in a box, I paid my $5.99 and left the store.
On the drive home I thought I heard a sneeze coming from the box. I hoped I was hearing things. I got him home and sure enough he sneezed. I listened to his breathing. There was no rattling, just sneezing. I held him in one hand and the receipt in the other. My brain said, “Take him back. This is nuts. He’ll infect all my rats with whatever he’s harboring.” The voice that keeps getting me into trouble said, “Keep him. If you take him back, he’ll either get sicker or end up as a snake’s dinner.” I called Nichole Royer, my rodent collector codependent, described my new critter and asked her opinion. As we talked I said, “Oh great, now he’s licking me.” Nichole’s advice was to keep him. “He sounds like the makings of a great pet.”
I set up my quarantine cage in the laundry nook (where The Rat Nook got its name in the days before my washer and dryer), gave him a little box to play in, some lab blocks, an orange slice, and made up my concoction of Tylan and Tang. Over the next 2 weeks his sneezing diminished and his personality flourished. He was quite the character. I played with him every opportunity I had, as I was afraid he would get lonely. If I didn’t let him out and he felt neglected, he would throw his box around his cage making as much racket as he could until I paid attention to him.
I was having a major problem finding the right name for him. His official name came to me that first afternoon, RN I’ve Been Spot-ted, but nothing popped into my head that fit him. Teddy obviously went with his name, but he just didn’t look like a Teddy. I just kept referring to him as the spotted guy.
One afternoon I let him out to sit on top of his cage. Somehow he managed to fall behind the dryer. I wondered how I would get him out without taking everything out of the laundry nook. He didn’t have a name so I couldn’t just try to call him. I finally just tapped on the floor hoping he would come to the tapping and called “Spottie Guy.” He came right out from around the dryer. That moment he got a name. He was Spottie Guy.
Spottie Guy went through a bizarre growth spurt. Maybe it was the lab blocks and the sudden influx of good food after living on grain that did it. His body grew and his head and tail didn’t. He was a little strange looking. Fortunately, this only lasted a few days and the rest of him caught up, although his tail did remain a little on the short side. His sneezing had all but disappeared. He only sneezed when he got excited. I entered him in the Kitten class at the March show. He made it through the health check, but started sneezing after I got him up on the judging table. Too much excitement. I pulled him from the judging, and he didn’t sneeze the rest of the day.
Over the next several weeks, I became more and more devoted to Spottie. Our morning routine consisted of letting him out of his cage while I made coffee and fed the dogs. I would sit at the computer while I drank my coffee and tried to come to life. Spottie would sit on my shoulder, lick my ears, climb through my sleeves and lick my hands. He would go from my lap to the desk, and he would quickly return.
Sometimes while I was getting ready for work I would let him run around in the bathroom while I put my make up on. He would climb on my feet and I bent down to let him climb up on my leg.
We invented a game called toss the rat. I would sit on the floor, Spottie would get in my lap, and I would toss him a foot or so. He came galloping back for more and I would toss him a little farther. He loved this. He would sit on top of his cage and I would scratch his back for a minute each time I walked by. If I didn’t stop while passing his cage, he would reach out and grab whatever part of my clothing he could get a hold of.
Spottie went to the Blessing of the Animals the Saturday before Easter and was blessed by Cardinal Mahoney. He thoroughly enjoyed that trip. He rode around Olvera Street in my fanny pack until he got too hot. The crowds didn’t faze him at all. Anything rattie related I went to, he attended also.
His next adventure was the Pet Expo in April. I took the Friday off from work and spent all 3 days there. I left Spottie home on Friday and ended up being gone longer than I’d planned. When I got home, Spottie threw what I describe as a Spottie temper tantrum. He shoved his box around his cage making as much noise as possible and nosed at the lid. He definitely wanted attention. I let him out for awhile and let him release some of his pent up energy. I decided to take him with me on Saturday so I could play with him off and on during the day.
Sunday was our “Match Show” for our trainee judges. Karen Robbins judged the pet rats and I did the clerking. I had Spottie and Torch, my female Black Hooded, entered in the pet class. Spottie turned his charm on Karen. He came right out of his show box and licked Karen’s fingers. She played with him, he played back, then came running over to me as if to say, “Hi Mom. Isn’t this fun?” He won the pet class with ease. This was the first time I had won Best Pet with one of my rats after 13 years of showing. This was quite a thrill for me.
A few days after the Pet Expo I put him in with my five-week-old Merle boys. I was afraid Spottie would lose his affection towards me and prefer his rat buddies. Wrong! He was quite excited about being with his new friends. He licked them all over, but when he heard my voice, he would come immediately to me. I also moved the Merles’ grandfather, Inky, in with them. Spottie being Spottie, licked him all over, too. Poor Inky had a look on his face that clearly said, “What hit me?” Spottie enjoyed being with his friends, but he did prefer to be with me.
At AFRMA’s May show, Spottie again was Best Pet. His personality seemed to just sparkle. He also had quite a day at our June Pet show. He very handily won Most Affectionate, Best Pet, and the Rat Race. Spottie loved the rat race. When the gate was opened, all I had to do was tap on the edge of the race track and call his name. He came running. Of course, getting him out of the race track was another story. After he had won a heat, he turned right around and spent some time exploring the interesting smells. He thoroughly enjoyed the day.
It was a Sunday unlike any Sunday I had ever had. My dad had died two days before, and I was in a bit of a haze. I had also spent the day before at Karen’s doing another rat judging training session. We had an added attraction, Mickey Maeckelbergh from Belgium came to the judging session to watch us and also pick up some rats that we had gotten together for her to take back home. I took my Hooded babies to show everyone how they were developing. For some reason, I decided to leave Spottie home. I didn’t get back home until after midnight. I just took a cursory glance into Spottie’s cage. He was already asleep in his hammock.
I got up on Sunday morning feeling very much out of it. I went over to Spottie’s cage, called his name, but got no response. My first thought was that he was really mad at me for not taking him. My next thought was that if he didn’t respond to my calling, he must be dead.
I peeked into the hammock. He was curled up with Inky. I sort of poked at him through the hammock. No response. I then pulled him out. He was limp and his body temperature was very cool. He was also breathing very shallow and rapidly. I set him up in a 10-gallon hospital cage, put him on Tylan and Tang, an orange slice, and put a heating pad under half of the cage, then called Nichole to tell her what was going on. Her advice was to get him to a vet. He looked slightly better when he got warmer, but as the day progressed, his breathing became more shallow and rapid.
I took him to West Riverside Veterinary Clinic, which is open 7 days a week and met a vet who was fairly knowledgeable about rats. He was surprised that I had Sani-chips© in his cage and I was feeding lab blocks. Unfortunately, his diagnosis wasn’t good.
Spottie had pneumonia. The vet said there was so much fluid in his lungs that he could barely hear his heartbeat. He suspected since this came on so suddenly, that he had a lung abscess and it had burst. He gave me the option to treat him with antibiotics, which he said would have to be administered every few hours. He said that if he lived, he would never be the same, he would never have the energy level that he’d had, and that he would always be having respiratory infections for the rest of his life.
“But in his short life, he gave more love than many others in a few years.”
My heart said, “Save Spottie Guy,” but it was my brain that won this time. I had my dad’s funeral to contend with this coming week and all the emotion about his loss to deal with. Only a few days before I had seen my dad and thought that animals were lucky that we could end their suffering.
I opted to put Spottie down. The vet then told me that he didn’t think he would live another day. His color was getting more blue and his breathing more labored. I left the veterinary clinic carrying the empty little blue carrier that I took him everywhere in. I was numb. I wouldn’t let myself cry fearing I wouldn’t be able to stop. I had lost so much in just 48 hours.
Over the last 15 years I have had several rats that had special personalities, but none had quite the impact on me that Spottie had. In just 4 months I had become absolutely nutty about this rat. I have heard people lament the fact that rats have such short life spans, only 2 to 3 years. Satu Karhumaa, my e-mail pen pal from Finland who is also president of the Finish Mouse Club, expressed it perfectly when I told her about Spottie Guy. She wrote, “But in his short life, he gave more love than many others in a few years.”
Editor’s Note: During the 4 months that Spottie Guy was with us, many of us who regularly attend AFRMA events grew extremely fond of him. Though there are many wonderful rats out there, Spottie Guy outshone them all. I have never met another rat who so totally devoted himself to an outpouring of unselfish affection towards members of the human race. The news of Spottie Guy’s death sent shock waves of sorrow throughout the club.
In memory of Spottie Guy, a plaque has been donated to the club. This “Spottie Guy” memorial award will be given to the rat winning the largest number of Best Pet classes during the year. It will serve as a perpetual trophy, being handed down to a new winner each year.