Two days ago I passed the house where David Steig used to live.
David was a friend who worked at PetSmart during my Banfield days. He and his partner bred hairless dumbo rex rats. I got it into my head that I NEEDED hairless dumbo rex rats. David let me adopt three baby rats from him – two for our family and one for our niece Kylah.
Our rats were Fuzzy and Wuzzy, and Kylah’s rat was Cookie Roo.
They were about the best little pets you can imagine. I miss them still. Driving down the street of the house where we first met them brought back a flood of memories.
When I wrote for Omaha.net, the editors let me name my column “The Wuzzy Chronicles.”
This is the first of the stories I wrote for Omaha.net.
I will retell the story here over the next few days. If you want to know how it ends early, the same story can be found at Omaha.net.
My Rat Wuzzy, Part 1
Wuzzy had been bleeding for a couple of weeks. We had just located the source of her bleeding two days prior and set her up for major abdominal surgery.
Fuzzy and Wuzzy are our female hairless dumbo rex rats. Dumbo because their ears are larger than normal and on the sides of their heads instead of the top. Rex because if they did have hair, it would be curly. All they’ve got are whiskers, and they look as though someone set them with a tiny curling iron.
When we adopted Fuzzy and Wuzzy, we also brought home their littermate, Cookie Roo. She was a gift for our niece’s birthday.
One of the first nights the three baby rats were in our home, they became chilled, and we woke up to three unconscious rats. Russ rushed their habitat to me and said, “Something’s wrong with the rats! Do something!” I never use exclamation marks when I am quoting Russ. He is steady. He is calm. He is my voice of reason. He was not calm, he was desperately worried, and for good cause.
The three fastest physical examinations I have ever performed revealed that none of the three rats were breathing, and Baby Wuzzy did not have a heartbeat. I was sobbing. I picked them up one by one and did mouth to nose resuscitation. I rotated through the three of them, and when I got to Wuzzy, I also gently pumped her tiny ratty heart. Whoosh…pump, pump, pump, pump, pump…woosh…pump, pump, pump, pump, pump…next rat. Russ watched for a few cycles like he was watching double dutch jump roping and then jumped right in.
In between ratty breaths I said, “time us!” Sadly, I knew that if we had to perform CPR for longer than five minutes, the prognosis of our three little friends would seriously worsen. And I had NEVER successfully performed CPR on a patient without a heartbeat. But these were our new babies. Three days in, and we were already in love.
Fuzzy started breathing first, then Cookie Roo. I ignored the time constraints I had asked Russ to make sure I respected and cradled Wuzzy in my cupped hand, trying to warm her and also convince her little cardiovascular and respiratory systems to restart. Before each set of heart pumps, I would gently feel her little chest on each side with my thumb and first finger, and after several minutes, I felt the faintest little flutter.
With renewed energy, I sent Russ to warm Fuzzy and Cookie Roo and kept up with the mouth to nose resuscitation on Wuzzy Rat. Slowly she started breathing on her own and then looked up at me with her beautiful beady eyes, and…rats don’t smile, but…heart-to-heart she smiled at me, and then laid her exhausted little head down in my hand, and we went to join Russ and her litter mates in the much less scary, and much slower paced, rewarming and rehydrating processes.
While we were reviving the rats, I was completely, obsessively focused. Afterwards, I held them each individually and apologized for not understanding their metabolic needs well enough to know they needed more warmth than a heated house. They needed more help eating and drinking than we assumed they did. In hindsight, we realized they were much younger than we had thought. Probably only three weeks old, and not completely weaned. And while adult hairless rats can usually do just fine without supplemental heat, baby hairless rats are still developing their thermoregulatory systems and need help. I felt horrible and negligent, yet those intense and valid emotions were so overshadowed with relief that I was, in the end, holding three happy, goofy baby rats, and the memory of that morning now is a very good one.
Post from one year ago today...
February 1, 2016