Rats have very short lives, even if they live a “long life” for a rat. The years of their life are two or, by reason of strength, three. Alas, our little Stumpy drew the short straw. She was always the runt of the 13-pup litter, and (to continue the “short straw” analogy) she lost half her tail to one of her siblings when she was only a couple of weeks old (hence her cognomen). Compared to her sister Stripe, and even more to her cousin Persephone (daughter of Smudge and affectionately known as “Pudge” due to her ever expanding girth) she was tiny. When it came to taking all of her sisters and brothers back to the pet shop in December last year, we decided to keep her as well as Stripe. Her chances of finding a good home were small due to her rear-end defect, and we didn’t want her ending up as snakefood. But she was never very affectionate, was forever hiding from the world, and, whenever we reached into the cage to pull out a rat, she would always be the one at the back of the rat pile. So I actually have very few pictures of her.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that she had developed a lump (first a stump, then a lump…). I took her to our family vet, and after a test he confirmed that it was fatty tissue, probably benign. But there are always risks with putting such little animals under anesthetic, so he suggested leaving it to see if it got any bigger. Well, it did, and so I took her back today to ask for it to be removed. I was talking to a fellow member of the Australian Rat Fanciers’ Society on Saturday at a fundraising sausage sizzle at Bunnings (yes, there were questions when people saw our sign as they were buying their sausages, but we made $700 to help with our Rat Rescue program). Apparently, even if benign, if left untreated, the lumps can grow very large and cause all sorts of problems for the little critters. So I decided today to act, and took Stumpy down to our vet this morning on the way to work.
Just before mass this afternoon (Feast of the St Michael etc – cantoring in the Cathedral), I received a text from the vet to say that all went well, and that Stumpy was just coming out of her anesthetic. He added that he had in fact found a second lump growing in her groin, and had taken that out too. Apparently neither tumor was a benign as he first thought, and were more difficult to remove than he expected. I offered prayers of thanksgiving, and at lunch afterwards told my colleagues that my little friend had pulled through.
Then the vet called me about an hour later to say that Stump had relapsed into unconsciousness and died…
One part of me is actually glad. I was concerned that if another tumor was already growing in such a short period, others might yet grow, and before she had recovered from this operation she would need another. I was also (rather shamefully) glad that it was Stumpy – the unfriendly one – and not Persephone, or Stripe, or Mummy Smudge or Aunty Dot.
I left work a little early to get back to the vet’s to pick up Stumpy’s body. They had nicely wrapped her up in a cotton cloth, and kindly waived any charge at all for the surgery. I brought her home and buried her in the garden, just a couple of metres from where she was born.
All in all, I guess she had a decent life for a rat. And although five pet rats have, at times, seemed like quite a lot, and although she was usually hiding in some corner or other, the cage is just that little bit emptier tonight, and the rat pile just that little bit smaller.
Rest in peace, Stumpy.