A couple days ago, Robin and I had to make one of the most difficult decisions we have ever made as a couple. We had to put our pet rats down. It wasn't an easy consensus to reach, but the two of them had developed irreversible health problems, it seems.
After we moved to Portland, our work schedules became a point of struggle for the two of us. Regardless of what job Robin had had at the time, my schedule was pretty set at 2-10:30pm, five days a week. Therefore, we barely got to see each other. When we did, we were too tired to even make the most of it. She began talking about wanting pet rats, something to keep her company during the long, restless days of being apart.
So, for her birthday, I had cooked up a couple surprises for her. One of them was surprising her with tickets to see one of her favorite bands in town (she had no idea they were even playing a show). The other was two pet rats (she had no idea I was even contemplating it).
Maggie and I drove to the pet store a day or two before Robin's birthday to get the rats. I was having my doubts about getting them all the way there. Regardless of how small or discreet they would be as pets, it was still a lot of responsibility. It would change certain routines that we had because their health and diet and care would weave itself into our lives. That all changed the second I saw Mulder.
I went up to the cages holding all of the rats and peeked inside. Mulder, a brown fancy rat, came charging at the glass like a puppy excited to see its owner. My heart melted immediately, and all of my doubts quickly disappeared. Taking him home that day was a given. I picked out the other one, a brown-hooded white fancy rat and named her Scully. We got them boxed up and the whole ride home the crawled and pawed and climbed over each other, excited with their new surroundings. They fit in the palm of my hand.
Robin was absolutely beside herself when I gave the rats to her. Her smile stretched for miles and her eyes donned a new glow of pure appreciation. We set up the cage for them, got their houses set up and proceeded to feed them. We simply just watched them being rats. And it was absolutely adorable.
They very quickly developed personalities unlike anything I have ever seen before. Mulder was the greedy, rabble-rouser, always trying to steal Scully's food. He always craved being the center of attention. Scully was the submissive, shy, passive-agressive one. She allowed Mulder to walk all over her (literally) but would fight back when it got to be too much. They lived in perfect harmony, though. Watching them interact with each other was one of the best parts of having them. We would pass hours at night just drinking beer and playing with them. We didn't need television for entertainment on those nights. Having the two of them scurrying across the table and contemplating taking a leap kept us smiling and happy.
We went through two or three cages before finally shelling out the money to buy them an all-metal, chew-proof, tri-level "rat manor". When we took a vacation over the summer, Lairen took them in. The entire week they were slowly and methodically clawing and chewing a hole in the corner of their plastic domicile. Upon our return, we noticed the hole and duct taped it up pretty good. Then, shortly thereafter, I was awoken by Robin at 6:30am to her saying "I'm sorry to wake you, but the rats escaped and I have to go to work".
I wasn't even mad. It was more funny than anything. They had always been a mischievous couple of rats. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and found them under the oven, backed into a corner. I tried reaching in to grab them and couldn't stretch my arms far enough. Then, a light bulb went off. I pulled the entire drawer out of the oven and the two of them looked like criminals that had been caught red-handed. They looked like guilty people. It was hilarious. I grabbed Mulder as hard as I could without hurting him and put him in his rat ball. Oh, did I mention that not only did these two rats not know how to use a wheel, but when they were put in their plastic rolly-balls, they would literally sit in them for hours without even moving?
Mulder was grumpy at his failed escape attempt and moped in his ball. Scully darted out from under the oven and I chased her around the apartment. She then bee-lined to the recliner and crawled inside. I couldn't help but laugh. I turned the recliner on its side to hear better where she was crawling around. I about gave up when she came charging out of the recliner and ran directly into the cage through the same hole they chewed out of. That was the kind of rat she was. A very silly one, bad at being a rat half the time.
The two of them were a part of our family here in Portland. They brought warmth to our gatherings. Mulder's zombie-like clawing at the cage offered endless entertainment for anyone to stick their finger up to the cage. Scully would just use both of her palms and push your finger away. They were also part of my daily cooking routine. Getting a snack and ruffling a plastic bag of chips, Mulder became incredibly animated. He would run around like a maniac, jumping and climbing on the rungs of his cage, expecting a treat. When I'd generate scraps of vegetables or have bits of fruit, they were like little furry garbage disposals. They both knew that when Robin and I were eating, they would be eating, too.
About a month ago, Mulder developed a small lump on his chest. Quickly thereafter, Scully began walking funny. It was as if one side of her body was asleep. We thought that rough-housing with Mulder has caused her to fall and hurt her arm, so we gave it a few days. When her condition didn't improve, we decided that they needed to go to the vet. In the year and a half we had kept them under our wing, we never had cause to take them into the vet. We fed them well and they always had fresh water and treats.
The veterinarian confirmed our suspicions that Mulder's lump was a mammary tumor. The diagnosis wasn't bad at all, but the tumor would continue to grow until his quality of life was compromised. It's simply something that rats are susceptible to because most of their bodies are mammary tissue. The doctor also thought that Scully had an inner-ear infection which would cause her to walk funny. He prescribed antibiotics for her that should help her get over her ailment.
After almost two weeks on the antibiotics, Scully had yet to improve. She was obviously struggling to even get to her food dish. She became somewhat of a recluse. Her usually playful self was kept indoors in their plastic rat house most of the time. Mulder's lump had nearly tripled in size. He could barley put his front paw on the ground anymore. The painful decision to euthanize them became something we couldn't put off any longer.
As Robin said in a relasted blog post: "I was thinking about it though, and I don't think that both of them getting life altering and threatening afflictions at the same time is by chance. If one or the other were to go and leave the other behind, I don't think they'd last. I think that the others time would run out shortly thereafter. They were meant to be together, in life and in death. Looking at partnerships like what we saw in Mulder and Scully really brings to realization that there's a plan, there's fate in line for everyone. Whether or not we see that is another story entirely."
We took a drive across the city a couple days ago, rats in tow. Robin put an old tshirt in a box so they could be as comfortable as possible. It was a very strange feeling to know that on our drive back, they wouldn't be with us. After the obligatory paperwork at the Oregon Humane Society, it came time to pass them off to the desk clerk. He told me that he would stay with them until an animal technician came along. They wouldn't be left alone. After saying our "I love you"'s to the little bastards, I passed the box across to desk to the clerk. He said "You guys take care" with such genuine and warm sympathy that my heart nearly broke.
We left the building and stepped into the bright February sunlight, the contrast of the dark decision and the happy weather nearly making me sick. An electric rush came coursing through my body, but crying wasn't an option. I needed to be strong for the two of us. I think it would have killed Robin to see me cry.
The worst part was finally over. Having to wait out the couple of days before putting them down was harder than finally giving them up to a better place. It was like they were little ticking timebombs. Our love for them was based purely on what was best for them. It wasn't something we were happy to do, but being as empathetic for animals as we are, it was the only decision.
So, little ones, this one's for you. You were a big part of our lives and no future pet we could ever have will fill the hole left in your absence. We wish you the best of luck solving X files in Rat Heaven. <3