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Pearl is in cheese heaven

I am a rat sitter.

Two pet rats were unexpectedly dropped off at my friend’s house when her daughter moved to San Francisco for school. At the time, my friend had scheduled a trip and needed a rat sitter.

The last rats I had been involved with were more than 40 years in their grave. They had been left outside under a shade tree by us children and suffered from heat stroke when the sun crested the tree top. My mother tried to console us teary-eyed bunch of kids when we didn’t understand what happened. Maybe I wasn’t the best choice of rat sitter. Rat care instructions were left on a countertop, and I further researched the situation on the internet.

Daphne was brown, and Pearl was white, both fat with beady eyes. I was instructed to handle them because they were friendly rats. I noticed that Pearl was moving around in an ungainly manner and recalled that “tumor” had been mentioned in a conversation. Pearl had a tumor on her leg that was nearly half the size of her body.

I researched this condition and learned that a rat could not eat enough to support a growth of that size on its tiny body. When my friend returned, I recommended euthanizing Pearl so she didn’t suffer for the rest of her short life. Rats have an average life span of two to five years, although it has been reported that a Rat named Rodney lived for seven years.

My friend was squeamish about euthanizing Pearl, but a local vet agreed with the decision and offered to help with the procedure. I volunteered for rat hospice duty. I was told to bring Pearl and a cardboard box that she would fit in for burial. The vet assured me the procedure was painless and she wouldn’t feel a thing. I had already dug a two-foot rat hole for Pearl’s burial. Before I left the vet’s office, she asked whether there was a rat mate that had shared the cage. Pearl’s sister Daphne was still alive and well at home in the cage. I was instructed to put the deceased Pearl in the cage with Daphne for “closure.” Daphne needed to know that Pearl was gone.

My friend was not home when I put Pearl in her cage to let her sister morn. Daphne sniffed Pearl, walked all over her and then tried to drag her into a corner. I wasn’t a rat whisperer and didn’t know what the rat mates’ intentions were, so I removed Pearl from the cage and put her in the burial box. I don’t know whether Daphne achieved closure. I buried Pearl in the backyard deep enough so other animals couldn’t get to her and placed a little epitaph on her grave:

Here lies Pearl fair and fat,

Final resting place of a comely rat.

She left this world on a sunny day

In search of cheese and constant play.

— Diane Wallace lives in Jacksonville.

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