by Rebecca McLeod
Rebecca shares with KRL another fun story about her pet rats.
It is seriously difficult to tell one white rat from another. Some owners trim their fur a little in patterns to try and tell them apart; others use food coloring, but I’ve largely given up. The White Babies don’t want individuality; I think of them as having a hive mind controlled by the Head White Baby. Sometimes you can pick out an individual—“Wheel Tail” was an athlete with her tail permanently curled over her back, “Twinky” was enormous and mean as a polar bear coming down off of a sugar high, but as for the others, they are all “White Baby” as in “Hey Matthew, two of the White Babies are escaping.” “Let ‘em, there’s a lot more where they came from!”
There have been many white babies over the years. Too many, some of the other rats mutter, glaring at the nearest white rat. No matter how many rats we have, the white babies seem to have the majority. If there’s a vote, the White Babies have it in the bag. I think they planned it that way. When Gonzo, our hairless doe, had a litter of ten white babies, I think most of the other rats just gave up. Willow, never a quitter, valiantly had a litter of fifteen blue and whites, but her Blue Babies tend to be so diminutive that they don’t stand a chance against a gang of White Babies. It turns out like a Jets versus Sharks show-down in an igloo, and when the fur stops flying and the squeaking dies down, the White Babies come swaggering out (the Blues are flat on their backs, wondering what hit them).
Among the many White Babies who have come and gone, there is one that stands out as a White Baby among White Babies; a PEW (pink-eyed white) who lived adventures a little larger than the others. To tell you the truth, I don’t know who her parents or siblings are, because for all I know, she could be the very first of the white babies dating from the opening of our rattery and our very first litter.
So, her name was. . .Artemis?? And she was born to our foundational doe Psyche Black and White (maybe) and Fat Tommy (maybe, who was a White Baby) and she was a dainty little White Baby. Her brothers and sisters were readily adopted and she was chosen as a companion for an elderly rat named Grandma Arnold, who claimed to be at least three years old, which is ancient for the average rat. Artemis, renamed Ariel, moved in with Grandma Arnold and they lived very happily with their owners for a couple months. A couple months later, the boyfriend of the couple finally confessed his terror of the rodents to his girlfriend. So Ariel and Grandma Arnold came back to live with us.
By the time Grandma Arnold had passed away, the dainty little Ariel had grown to be medium-sized—the exact size as four or five other White Babies that we’d accumulated in that time. I couldn’t tell her apart from the others, except that one of the White Babies seemed to be well-behaved, and so I called whichever one was behaving, a virtuous White Baby.
So I’m really not sure if Virtuous was the White Baby that was adopted out as a companion for a single rat and who was returned as unsuitable because she kept chewing on the other rat. Additionally, I’m not sure who the White Baby was who was put to sleep because of health problems, or the White Baby we adopted out to the vet’s daughter, or the White Baby. . .well, you get the picture. It was around this time that Gonzo, the hairless hermaphrodite rat had her litter of ten or eleven white babies and by the time they’d grown up enough to join the female colony in the big cage, there was no stopping the White Baby Revolution. Everywhere you looked, there were White Babies giving instructions to smaller White Babies; White Babies sleeping in the best spots in the whole cage; White Babies eating the best food and leaving the boring kibble for everyone else.
That evening we were watching the news when the news anchor made a reference to the PEW Research Centre. I started snickering, envisioning rat PEWs (Pink-Eyed White; a.k.a. White Babies) running a Washington think tank. Then I heard a phone ring. . .from inside the cage. I took a quick look into the back of the lower level of the big cage and turned to Matthew.
“Since when have the White Babies owned a call centre?”
“Since they started formally working for the PEW centre. Couple months. They offered to defray our costs on litter, pay the phone bill, and I couldn’t say no.”
“Which one of them started the call centre?”
“Search me—one of the White Babies.”
I never could count them, and just when I thought I had a secure head count (using food coloring) another baby or two would show up, and the others would carefully lick off their dye. Virtuous was somewhere in that group I’m sure.
Well, eventually I was able to discern one White Baby apart from the other White Babies (this after I took in more than a dozen rescues, which naturally had several white babies). This was Old Virtuous White Baby. She, Inkling (our Rat Who Lived), and Oracle Rat were the grand old dames of the rattery. Even though I wasn’t precisely sure of Virtuous’ age, you could tell she had plenty of mileage on her and needed a peaceful retirement. These three girls moved in with Old Man Rodent, forming the senior rodents’ community, and living very peacefully for the most part for many months. In these last few months, Virtuous was a love bug, cuddly and kindly disposed toward all, grooming me back enthusiastically when I scratched behind her ears. Her skin became a little dry at one point, and when I massaged her with a little olive oil, I swear she purred like a cat. She ate tons of applesauce, wet catfood, and grew happily plump in her old age.
Eventually Oracle and Old Man Rodent went on to their rewards, and then one morning I found Virtuous.
It is customary in our rattery to use a pretty towel or a favorite hammock to wrap the deceased and to include a story or two that they inspired. We have our rodents cremated and placed in a memorial garden where we can visit to leave flowers.
“What name do I put on the forms?” asked Matthew helplessly, “I don’t have a date of birth either.”
“Call her Virtuous and leave out the date of birth. I like the sense of mystery.”
“How do you know that I’m not Virtuous?” asked a White Baby, standing by the cage door. I smiled.
“Because you’re a dreadful little animal. I saw you slapping around poor Tinkerbell not twenty minutes ago.”
“That was another White Baby!”
“From now on, I’m going to hold all of you collectively responsible for anything one of you does. I figure you probably have a hive mind anyway.”
“Ratcist,” she grinned, sticking her tongue out at me and running off to play.
Check out more of Rebecca’s rat stories in KRL’s rodent ramblings section.