I was a vet. tech. student looking for some more hands on experience, so I started volunteering at an animal shelter near the college. They had a policy that new volunteers had to wait so long before they could adopt. I was a couple weeks shy of finishing my time, when one of the rats there stole my heart. He was a hairless rat, and there were 3 other hairless rats there that all looked very much alike, but this one had such personality. He would run laps around my neck, curling his tail around for balance, or sit on my shoulder and play with my hair. So I went up to the front desk and asked if I could reserve him for when my time was up. They said it was close enough and I could adopt him if I wanted. I told them I had to pick up a few things first, and we settled on bringing him home on Friday.
Friday, I go to the shelter ready to bring my rat home, but when I get in there, I don't see the hairless boys there. Only a single hairless girl was left with a reserved sign on her cage. Turns out, the shelter had put the reserved note on the wrong file, and the boy I wanted to reserve had been adopted on Thursday. I was disappointed, but I took the girl home anyway. She was a bit skittish, but gentle, and now lonely. I named her Sephrenia after a character in a book I was reading.
She was the first rat I had ever had, so I still had a lot to learn. I found out rats do better in groups, so I kept an eye out for young females to keep her company. She had some quirks, but since I didn't have much experience with rats, I thought they were normal. She startled easily, was terrified of male voices, and didn't like to be touched unless she came to you. She also wasn't big on exploring or going onto anything that moved. When the shelter got some more young female rats, I adopted a pair to keep her company. What a difference in personality between Sephrenia and those little girls. They were active, curious, and fearless. I decided to try to teach them to fetch small balls. The little girls would chase anything that moved. Sephrenia would only pay attention to the balls that had bells in them.
I brought her to school with me and asked one of my professors if it was possible to do a vision test on a rat. She showed me how, and I discovered that Sephrenia was completely blind. Her pupils didn't even react to light. But I was assured that blind pets can still have a good quality of life. You just have to remember to announce your presence before touching them, and don't rearrange things on them.
To try to help socialize Sephrenia, I started leash training her. She would then sit on my shoulder when I went out in public to pet-friendly businesses. I would always check first before bringing her along. She would be calm as long as she was under my hair. Even if it was just a few strands draped over her back. She would act as if she were completely hidden.
Later on in the semester, we were learning about various lab tests that are often run in clinics. One of our homework assignments was to bring in a urine sample, and if we 'forgot' our homework we would have to provide our own sample. I had noticed Sephrenia seemed to drink more water than the other two girls, so I put her in a clean plastic tub until she gave me a sample. I poured it into the sample container and brought it to school the next day.
The results weren't good. It showed that her urine was more dilute than it should have been, and had a LOT more protein in it than normal. I asked the professor if I had done something wrong, or if the sample could have gotten contaminated. She said it was possible, but she'd like to see Sephrenia at her clinic (she was my vet as well as my teacher).
Turns out, Sephrenia was in kidney failure as well as blind. The vet only gave her a month, maybe month and a half tops. I learned how to make rat food since you can't easily find renal diets for rats. I would also bring her to school with me once a week to keep checking her urine samples. I soon had her trained to provide a sample just minutes after I put her in a clean plastic tub.
The school year soon ended, and she was still hanging on. A couple times that summer I brought her in for another checkup. When school started in the fall, my professors were surprised that she was still alive. She never got better, but at least she wasn't getting worse.
She ended up living for about a year after she was diagnosed with kidney failure. She had to be put to sleep because she formed a 'saddle thrombus' and became paralyzed. By the end she was much more tolerant of male voices and didn't mind being petted, as long as she was being talked to.
She wasn't the rat I wanted to adopt, but she was the rat that needed me to adopt her. I doubt she would have lived as long as she did if she didn't end up in the care of a vet. tech. student who used her for homework assignments.
Editor: Marjorie Skiba
About the Author:
Chris lives in Maine with her family and their four pet rats: Tigger, Loki, Jojo and Yoda. When not saving the lives our furred and feathered friends, she likes to knit and have fun with her local branch of the Society for Creative Anachronisms.
For more information on rat adoption, check out the group Chris volunteers with Mainely Rat Rescue.
Rescued an iguana? A snake? A turtle? A Siberian Tiger? Add some variety to the Happy Tails and share your story of an unusual pet rescue today!