That was a Sunday morning two years before the time this story takes place. I remember it was a Sunday morning because one hour later we had to leave for church, and I was NOT going anywhere without our rats. So all of Westwood Church was honored by the presence of three baby hairless rats, who just earlier that morning, had all been dead. I have rarely been more emotionally exhausted than I was that morning. I didn’t care what anyone thought; I hovered over them and monitored them the entire morning. Turns out, what people thought was that the rats’ survival was cause for tremendous celebration. They were just as relieved as we were that the babies were OK, and kids and adults alike came in a steady stream to check on us and check on our rats. I love our church family.
Two weeks later, our niece received her birthday rat, but it was several months before we were able to tell her of Cookie Roo’s scary start.
Over fifty of the church’s preschool children and all of their teachers later came to my veterinary hospital in a daylong parade of tours to see Fuzzy and Wuzzy again.
Fuzzy and Wuzzy have spent a morning at a daycare where forty toddlers each gave them one Cheerio and either held or petted them, depending on the comfort level of each child. I believe that was one of the happiest days in the lives of my rats.
They have been to eight sessions of Camp Kindness, the Nebraska Humane Society’s summer kids’ camp, and are scheduled for four more sessions this summer. While I stand in front of the grade-schoolers and middle-schoolers and go on about the importance of doing well in science on the noble path of becoming a vet, the kids are all completely elsewhere, spellbound and enamored of my gorgeous rats as they pass them carefully around the entire room. It is one of the few times I don’t mind being ignored because I know that they will remember these gentle creatures far into adulthood and are learning lessons I could not put into words.
In the summer of 2009, the Nebraska Humane Society named two kitten littermates Fuzzy and Wuzzy in honor of my pets. Truth be told, I love that honor more than any other I have ever received.
Russ, who was in the middle of paying bills for the week, and also feeling pretty crummy because of his rat (and cat) allergies, said “lifespan” and “rat” and “cost” to me.
Let me explain that in context so you understand just how great Russ is.
My youngest daughter had just discovered the source of Wuzzy’s bleeding. The mysterious spots we had been finding were not porphyrin staining from the tears or nasal secretions of Fuzzy or Wuzzy, as we had assumed. If rats are stressed for any reason, physical or otherwise, they often produce tears containing a pigment also found in red blood cells called porphyrin. It is often mistaken for blood, even by experienced veterinarians and rat owners, but is a very different substance. When I see porphyrin, I look for stressors.
So, we had been looking for what could be stressing Fuzzy and Wuzzy. We had been hyper-vigilant about their habitat cleanliness, thinking that ammonia levels may have been an issue. We had discussed “quiet time” with the dogs. We had tweaked their diet, increased their treats, and watched their water bottle levels to make sure they were drinking adequately. It turns out that this time, the redness really was blood, and the source was Wuzzy’s reproductive system.
As I processed the mortality of my little friend, and the seriousness of her condition, Russ let me do so, but also gently steered my processing.
I said, “Hairless rats live eighteen months, and Fuzzy and Wuzzy are twenty-four months old.”
Russ said, “Do not consider their lifespan. Tell me if surgery could give Wuzzy more quality time.”
I don’t know if it will, but it could. And I had fallen into the trap every pet owner of a senior pet falls into. I equated a lifespan with a death sentence. A lifespan (and even an estimate of the time an ailing patient has left to live) is not set in stone. It is a Best Guess of a Fallible Doctor. It is an average. Every average has outliers. Most average lifespans of our pet friends are steadily increasing as husbandry and medical knowledge improve. And Wuzzy is not your average rat. She is not even your average hairless rat. She is Wuzzy.
At that, I said, “Wuzzy is a rat.”
Russ said, “Would you do the surgery if Wuzzy were a dog?”
I was completely indignant and even yelling at this point. “I am not saying Wuzzy is worth less than a dog! I am not saying…”
Russ said, “You know surgery would be warranted for this condition in a dog. Do it for Wuzzy.”
I said, “I need to find out how much this is going to cost.”
Russ said, “Find out how much it will cost, and we will make it work. Let’s decide now if this is the best thing for Wuzzy, before we know what it costs, so we are careful to make the decision apart from finances.
Post from one year ago today...
February 2, 2016