Friday, November 13, 2009
Death of a Pet Rat
This morning one of my friends told me the story of how his daughter found her beloved pet rat dead and how they had held a simple backyard funeral service for it, complete with a star-shaped, gift-box coffin.
I thought it was sweet, but I didn’t really relate.
We had recently lost a pet rat too. But it was the mean one, the one that the kids quickly shut into the cage and hoped it would not try to get out and bite them. When he died in the middle of the night, Kip double bagged him and slipped him into the dumpster. We told the kids in the morning, and they seemed relieved. Now they could play with the nice rat without fear of his vicious roommate.
But this afternoon, when we came home, I noticed our precious little furry friend looked strange. His body seemed contorted and he looked emaciated. I tried to break the news gently.
Sweetheart, I don’t think George is doing too well.
We brought him his favorite foods and tried to coax him into drinking from his water bottle. He let us pet him, and I told the kids I thought he might be dying.
NO! NO! NO!
Can we take him the emergency room? Can we call 911? Can we get a pet doctor to come here?
I called Kip for the ok on the vet. He had grown to love George as much as the kids and he okayed a potential vet visit for our $5 pet store rat.
I started calling around to find a rat doctor, and even made an appointment. But when I went to check on George, I realized he was not going to make it to the vet. His breathing had slowed and while my daughter was petting him, he died.
She wouldn’t believe he was dead. His eyes were still open. He was supposed to live for five years.
He didn’t even have a birthday! January 7th is his birthday! We never finish anything we start!
In a torrent of emotion she began to list disappointments and heartaches I had not realized held a claim on her soul.
He knew his name. He stood on his hind legs when he wanted us to pick him up and pet him.
She was crying. I was crying. The little brother was wailing, wrapping himself in his baby blanket.
My son said, “I loved him, but I don’t want to look at him anymore.” So I covered George with a piece of newspaper. He was quickly becoming much more dead looking.
I felt like I should say something parental, something spiritual, something meaningful.
I didn’t have anything. I was sad too.
He was a rat with a creepy long tail and beady red eyes, and I really liked him.
The only thing that came to mind was a Bible verse about giving thanks in everything. So we made a little mommy-and-kids huddle and thanked God for letting us have such a nice pet rat.
My son asked if George was in Heaven. My daughter looked at me with big soulful eyes and answered him, “No, I don’t think so.” She later explained that it wouldn’t make sense for rats to be in Heaven because some people might not like rats and it would not make sense for them to be there if other people didn’t like them.
What if a boy had a pet spider that died? Would God let spiders in Heaven?
It made sense to me. The brother, however, continued to talk about George being in Heaven. (FYI -- He is double-bagged in the dumpster.)
I decided it would probably be kinder for me to clean out the rat cage myself, so I downloaded some episodes of a Disney comedy sitcom that the kids really like and I let them watch that while I took on the worst part of pet ownership.
Even with yellow rubber gloves, I could hardly bare to pick up the now cold, stiff body of the rat that no longer resembled our furry, fat friend. I don’t deal with dead things much. But I could hear the children laughing in the living room and I powered through it. Sometimes I don’t like being the adult.
As I finished rinsing the cage in bleach, I heard my son yell.
“I’m over him now. Can we get a new one?”