If you’ve never spent time with rats…of the pet variety that is…it’s hard to truly express the sense of intelligence you get from them. All of the bonded pairs and groups we fostered showed affection for each other, but Dora and Daphne were special. As always, thank you for sharing this moment with me – comments and critiques are welcome!
I would like to introduce you to two very special girls. Their names were Dora and Daphne, and they were sisters.
We fostered Dora and Daphne several years ago. We had been volunteering with a couple of different animal rescues for a few years. At first the only animals we fostered were guinea pigs, but desperation and overcrowding prompted one of the rescues to ask us to step out of our comfort zone and take…rats.
Go ahead. Say, “Ewwww! Rats!?” Get it out of your system. Better now?
Hubby Dan was right there with you. He agreed to give it a try, but he wasn’t excited about it. It didn’t help that the first rats we fostered were a pair of hairless girls. They looked like aliens. Their skin was incredibly soft and papery – like very elderly ladies get sometimes. And they were warm. Very warm.
Then one of them climbed into his shirt pocket and went to sleep. It was cute. Too bad about that tail…but… it was cute. Hubby’s heart softened. We discovered their amazing intelligence, the wonderful variety of their personalities. We watched them play and tease each other. We fell in love with all of them.
None of the rats we fostered after that first pair stayed very long. We had a reputation – we were quite good at taking skittish little creatures and socializing them. We transformed them into sweet, affectionate friends that people were eager to adopt.
Then came Dora and Daphne.
Dora and Daphne were medicals. Their lungs had been scarred thanks to an ignorant owner who’d kept them in a glass fish tank on cedar bedding. Double whammy. The scarring was permanent, and it would shorten lives that were already only two or three years long in the first place. They couldn’t be adopted.
Their misfortune was our blessing.
Female rats are well-known for their energy level (think the worst case of ADHD you’ve ever seen, multiplied by about four thousand), but these girls didn’t have the breath for that. Instead, they were snugglers.
I got in the habit of having one or both girls on my shoulder when I was at the computer. They’d sleep, tail wrapped lightly around my throat for balance, occasionally waking long enough to climb down onto the shelf of my chest to beg for chin scritches.
Our oldest son was a member of the marching band at his high school, which meant driving to the school in the afternoon to pick him up. I started taking Dora with me. She’d sit on my shoulder as we drove, tail in its customary position, one tiny paw on my ear for extra security. When my son got in the car she’d transfer to his shoulder and start grooming anything she could reach.
As much as we loved them – and they loved us – nothing compared to the love they had for each other.
Dora was sicker than Daphne. She couldn’t play as long or as hard, and she tired easily. Often, when it got quiet and I’d go check on them, I’d find them in their fabric hammock. Dora would have her eyes half-closed in an expression of ratty bliss as Daphne gently groomed her. Dora couldn’t tolerate the rough grooming that rats usually enjoyed, and her sister understood that. She’d carefully clean each paw, then the ears, and finally the tail, until Dora was sleeping peacefully.
They seemed to understand that they wouldn’t have long with us or with each other, and they were determined to enjoy every moment. When the time finally came, Dora and Daphne crossed the Rainbow Bridge together.