Friday, September 26, 2008

A Tail of Two Rats

My daughter had a difficult time keeping her room clean while sharing with her brother, so when we rearranged rooms and gave her the dream of her life -- a room of her own -- we asked her to keep it clean. She did so, for two straight months, and I caved in and got her a pet rat, something she's wanted forever.

This is William Charles. We got him last Saturday, along with a purple cage, pink bedding (he's a male rat, but my daughter is very female.) She fell in love with him from the first moment at the pet store.She spent hours this week working on training him. Her ultimate goal was to teach him to steal from the rich and give to the poor.

However, this morning, William passed from this earth. We'd had him less than a week, and my daughter was devastated, thinking she'd done something wrong.

I called a different pet store than the one from whence he came, and learned that most likely, he had pneumonia, and most likely, he had it before he ever left the store. I discussed symptoms with the store employee, and learned that the cute little chirping noise William had been making was actually a rattling in his chest from the disease. Gulp -- I just thought he was trying to communicate. Turns out, rats don't talk.

This employee then told me he had a rat that had just recovered from an illness and had been fully treated with antibiotics. He was in good health now and ready to go back out on the floor, but the staff had fallen in love with him and didn't want to see him get sold to a snake owner. (I don't even want to think about that.) I asked him to hold the rat, and we went down to check him out. My daughter deemed him appropriate, we spent a half hour asking questions, and then we brought William Charles the Second a.k.a. "Billy" home with us. In appearance, he looks quite a bit like William did, but where William was caramel, Billy is gray, almost blue. In fact, he's called blue.

My daughter, meanwhile, was very resistant to the idea of just throwing William's body away. I tried to explain to her that we don't own any land, being in a trailer, and so we couldn't bury him. But she just couldn't handle the thought of the rat going into the Dumpster. Am I a horrible person to say I didn't have a problem with it at all? He was wrapped in a washcloth, laid to rest in a Pop Tart box -- I figured that was good. Apparently not.

So I called my long-suffering father and asked if we could bury a rat in his yard. To his everlasting credit, he only chuckled for a minute before telling us to come on over.

First, he let my daughter choose any spot she wanted, and she chose a place on the north side of the yard, in a flower bed.

Then he took a pick ax to the dirt and made a hole.He then ran into a rock, and patiently went at it with a crow bar.Then he had my daughter place the box in the hole, he set a large rock over it, and filled it in snugly with dirt. For a crowning touch, he put a tomato cage over it, and my daughter put a homemade grave marker into place, reading "R.I.P."
The thing that touched me the most was that my father did everything he could to make this a special time for my daughter. He didn't just make a hole, he dug a grave. He didn't just throw the box in there, he asked her to do it. He didn't just sling the dirt back on top, he carefully packed it. He honored my daughter's grief and didn't make light of it. I felt ashamed for even suggesting we just throw the box away.

When I was ten, I had a pet rabbit that died. I was inconsolable for days. And do you know what -- I remember my father digging a grave for that pet, too.

Dads are just good that way. Thanks, Dad.


Keeley said...

God bless your father. What a great man.

I hope Billy survives longer than William. He's a beautiful rat.

I remember when our dwarf hamster died. Emily was five. She and I were both upset. We buried Dinky in the backgarden. I realized that Emily didn't quite have the concept of death and burial down when she sweetly asked, "Can we bury him with his head out of the ground so he can breathe?"


C.S. Bezas said...

Oh, how touching, Tristi. No wonder you are so awesome come from good stock! :0)

Don said...

So sorry to hear about William Charles the First! Such a painful, character-building experience.

We've got the two guinea pigs now, and I dread the day we need to put either one in the ground. It's coming all too soon, I'm sure.

Hopefully WC2 can lead a long and prosperous life of thievery.

Holly said...

Dads are awesome. Cherish him Tristi. You will treasure these memories later.

Rattitude said...

Your father sounds like an awesome man.

I've been a rat owner for many years and their short lives tear me up. We've burried each and every one we've lost in the "rat graveyard" in our back yard.

I hope you and your daughter both love Billy and play with him alot. When a rat is without a buddy to live with they need LOTS of extra time and attention from their people.

Jenna Consolo said...

What a great story, Tristi. Dads ARE good that way. And I grew up believing that every pet needs not only a burial, but a funeral too. Your daughter has a sweet heart. I hope Billy lives a long, full life.

melissa c said...

This was so beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with everyone.

Shirley Bahlmann said...

Oh my goodness, you got me teary-eyed, Tristi. My dad was very kind when I fell in love with a calf at a slaughter plant where he worked. He wasn't upset with me at all for asking if we could take a calf back to our Philadelphia suburb home in Camden County, New Jersey. He did gently explain that it wouldn't work out, and even though I cried, I was strangely comforted at the same time that he cared.
You're right. Dads are good that way.

Nichole Giles said...

Oh no! I can't believe your rat died in the first week. That's tough on kids. When one of our puppies died (the day after being born) my whole family was traumatized.

I'm glad you found another one, though. Good luck on teaching him that special trick!


Candace E. Salima said...

Okay, I hate rats. But yeah, that was very sweet of your father to exercise such love, concern and thoughtfulness for your daughter. Very cool. I miss my dad.

G. Parker said...

Ugh...rats. I don't think I could stand one as a pet -- we have too many that are running around getting killed by our cats here. We live right next to a large field...
Your dad is cool...father's are like that.

Carrie and Troy Keiser said...

We can sympathize with your daughter. We had 2 pet rats and when they died, we needed to wrap them lovingly in a rag and placed them in a box, dug a grave and even said a few words about each rat. my husband was of the chuck it in the trash mind set.
What a sweet grandpa!

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