|This is Peanut, near death, and Omelet keeping her company.|
She tries not to take it personally. She understands that, for most people, rats are the single most disgusting creatures on the planet. But she doesn't care. Sure, rats for the most part exist in sewers and have creepy tails. But when you take them out of that environment, when you give them a chance to show you what intelligent, caring, social creatures they are, they'll really surprise you.
Emma has given rats a chance. And her life has been better because of it.
Yesterday, we lost one of the most amazing members of our long line of rodent family members. Her name was Peanut. When we got her from Pet Expo, they told us she was very young. We brought her home and, a few weeks later, she gave birth to nine babies.
We also had another female rat in the cage with her; Omelet. She was the offspring of the first rat we had that presented us with a litter of newborns one day. That rat was Pancake, the great matriarch of our rat family. After our first few rats died unexpectedly, Pancake was the big, healthy gal that didn't. And she was so nice. She loved to run around Emma's room, burrowing into clothes piles and hiding under the dresser.
When she had those babies, Emma decided to keep one. That was Omelet. And after Pancake died, Emma decided it was much more fun having two rats. That's when we went back to Pet Expo and bought Peanut.
From the very beginning, these two rats were buddies. Whenever you'd go into Emma's room, they'd be huddled in the corner, grooming each other or sleeping while curled around each other, sort of like a rodent yin-yang. When they'd hear the door open, they'd both perk up, and see who came in. If you walked up to the tank, they'd both come right up to the glass to see who it was. They loved when you blew on them. They'd stretch high on their hind legs to get their noses into the stream of air.
And they loved to be held. Peanut was the most adventurous. She'd go anywhere, forever curious. Omelet has always been more content to find a place in Emma's lap and just chill.
When Peanut had her babies, Omelet decided maybe it was time to get reacquainted with the idea of nursing. But when she went for some milk, Peanut let her know the nipples weren't for her.
A few days ago, Emma told me something was wrong with Peanut. So I checked her out. I didn't say so at the time, but I knew her days her numbered. When you've seen a dozen or so rodents limp into their final days, you start to recognize the signs. She was lethargic. No longer came up to the wall of the glass tank to see who came to visit. She was just still, laying in the corner.
And right at her side, of course, was Omelet. I went in to check on Peanut at about noon Monday, and she was on her side, her breathing was quite labored. Omelet was right there, resting her head on Peanut's shoulder. Then, in the evening, after my son and I did our Home Magazine route, we checked again. And Peanut was gone.
I wasn't sure if Omelet knew. But she sure looked confused. She was a little jumpier than normal. She sat there next to the body of her best friend, her only rodent friend, and looked around like she wasn't sure what to do. We kept Peanut's body in the cage for a few hours for Omelet. She never left Peanut's side.
Eventually we pulled Peanut out. We'll have a funeral for her this week.
Emma cried. This one was tough.
She told her friends, but, ... well ... Her friends, understandably, don't have the same love of this rodent that she does. It's hard to expect anyone to understand loving and animal society is taught to hate. We see them as filthy, disease-carrying freaks.
"It's OK," she said. "They just don't understand, and that's fine. I get it. To them it's like, 'So go get another one, what's the big deal?'"
She's never expected her friends to understand or even like her rats. She understands she's riding solo when it comes to rodent appreciation.
Omelet's riding solo, too. She's all alone now. She and Peanut were together for so long, we're wondering if a "Where the Red Fern Grows" scenario might play out.
If it does, that will suck. But we'll get through it. Emma's a tough kid. She's also a kid who is better for having given rats a chance. She's learned that, even though most of society has already made up their minds about them, sometimes society is wrong. It's a lesson I'm glad she learned.