life lessons from a pet rat

My rat, Yuureii, died at the end of January. She’d had a mammary tumour since last October and I’d decided against surgery on the grounds she was over two, and it would be a lot of stress for possibly not much extra life expectancy. As it was, she was perfectly well until the day before she died although she’d lost a lot of weight. She went rapidly downhill (as small animals do) and died in my arms on a Monday evening.

Yuureii was never keen on being handled, but she loved hiding inside my cardigan or pockets, where she would sleep. We eventually bonded in a way I never expected with such a difficult character, and she taught me more than I probably ever taught her. Yes,  animals don’t have the same understanding of life as we do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them. And here’s what I learned from a feisty albino rat with an attitude problem.

Patience and perseverance pay off
I rehomed Yuureii and her sister Nezumi when they were a year old, in July 2014. Nezumi was laidback and easy from the start, whereas Yuureii was awkward and scatty, and I had many painful bites to prove that point. I couldn’t hold her for the first few weeks; I would catch her in a box then sit on the stairs while I let her run around on my lap and explore the stairs until she gradually got used to me.

It was tempting just to leave her as a cage rat and focus on the amiable Nezumi. But I didn’t; I persevered for weeks. Weeks of just sitting on the stairs watching her run around, and learning to anticipate her moves so I could figure out how best to pick her up without losing a finger. I couldn’t rush things; they had to be done at her pace, so that’s how we worked. And we got there in the end. She simply didn’t like being handled, but we compromised.


Be yourself even if no one else likes it
No one else was keen on Yuureii. Adam didn’t mind her but he much preferred Nezumi, likewise with my sister. And to be honest, if a visitor wanted to hold a rat, I wouldn’t give them Yuureii anyway. If she bit me, fine, but I’d rather she didn’t bite others.

She just was who she was, whether people liked it or not, and she was perfectly happy. Not that I’m suggesting its OK to go around biting people, but its a reminder that we’ll always be happier in ourselves if we actually be ourselves, and that it doesn’t matter if people like us or not. Nezumi and I liked her regardless, and we were the only rat and person (??) who mattered in her tiny world.

Adapt to changes
Yuureii’s tumour started small but was almost 7cm diameter when she died. Sometimes it got in her way – she couldn’t climb as much as she did, and the extra weight meant her balance was sometimes off, but mostly she accepted it. She would sit and groom it, and she learned a new method of getting into her hammock with less effort.

That isn’t to say she didn’t try to fight it. She would still try to run along my arms even though she was at a much greater risk of falling, and she occasionally fell from the platform in the cage because she had misjudged it. But she would pick herself up and keep going, finding ways to adapt and live her life as best she could.

When the time comes to go, go
Watching Yuureii die was heart breaking. I had booked her in to be euthanized the next morning but as the evening wore on I knew she wouldn’t make it through the night. I worried she was suffering but on hindsight it was fair to say she mostly just slept until a small battle at the end as she fought for breath. It wasn’t much of a fight though; just an instinctive attempt to keep breathing before she succumbed.

Its kind of hard to put into words what I took from this. More of a knowing than something I can explain (which sounds stupidly profund, but there you go). It made me feel the same way that autumn does – sad yet somehow accepting. I guess death is one of the few inevitable things in life, and the one thing we all have in common. Its as much a part of life as anything else, and in itself is nowhere near as scary as we think – our fears are more attached to loss and the thought of suffering.

Everyone deserves a chance
Every time Yuureii curled up asleep inside my cardigan, and on the rare occasions she would sit in my hand, I took great pride in both myself and her for getting to this stage. It’s amazing how much difference time and perseverance made to her. With that in mind, I’ve now adopted two more older rats who were struggling to find an home because they have various issues. I’m hoping to give them a loving home and a chance to flourish, like Yuureii did.

What lessons have you learned from your pets? Those that have died or that are still with you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *