Okay, I finally feel up to writing this.
My least favorite thing about rats as pets is their short life span. Custard left us for the Land of New Feetsies last week.
Custard came to me obese and lonely. She’d been surrendered by her former owner to my friend Amy. Amy had worked with her and gotten her weight down some, but asked if I could give her a permanent home. I took her in gladly, along with four other girls of assorted colors and personalities.
Custard stood out because she had no idea she was a rat. She was the younger half sister and physical and personality twin to my former big love bug Zmei. She immediately moved in to his special spot and took over.
She may have started out with a rat companion and probably did. As far as I know though, she had ultimately spent most of her life alone with an owner who eventually didn’t have the time to spend with her and kindly chose to surrender her to those who could give her the love and attention this one in a million little girl deserved. Her gregarious and loving personality had bonded her to people in whatever capacity she could get them.
The first thing I did upon bringing her home, was to work on her diet and activity, which I'm still not sure I had any clue if I was doing correctly. The second thing I did was begin trying to slowly and carefully introduce her to any and all of my other eight rats to see if she could find the rat companion she needed. She wanted nothing to do with any of the other four girls, and the trauma of each intro on her psyche was so sad to see. She similarly hated my hairless rat boys with a passion. Finally I tried her with my biggest male rat Black Pete.
Pete was every rat’s friend, but he never gave his love cheaply. He was very reserved and shy around most people. The only two souls who ever won his heart were my husband, and Pete’s big brother Jeffrey Rat. He was devoted to Jeffrey and followed him everywhere until the day Jeffrey died. His personality changed completely afterwards and he became withdrawn and aggressive to the other rats in the cage. We had him neutered, which did calm him some, though I’m convinced it was less hormonal aggression and more simple grief and depression over the loss of his best friend.
But I had a feeling about him, so I put him and Custard together. Custard, reacted as she did with every rat: Puffing up and hissing, and freezing with her face to a corner. Pete ambled over to greet the strange new rat. He tried to boss her around, but she went Tasmanian devil on him. I could almost hear her screaming “Never without my permission!” She retreated to another corner and he sat there, looking scuffed, shocked, and amazed. This was not another boy rat. This was different. What was this?
It was love at first sight is what it was. When he next approached her, he was crawling slowly on his belly until his nose was just touching the fragrant soft fur of this little white angel who’d dropped into his world. Then he lay down and closed his eyes, bruxing softly. Custard didn’t know what to do with this crazy big furry thing, but in that first session he stayed by her side like that for half an hour.
Over the next few weeks, I continued to slowly introduce them to each other. If anyone could win this prickly girl over, it would be Pete. Custard was slowly losing more weight and getting closer to a healthy size each day. Then I made the distressing discovery of a mammary tumor. A combination of her obesity, age, and any of a number other factors were catching up to her. I took her in and had it removed. She scared me to death the very next morning by ripping the sutures out and opening herself wide. An emergency surgery later, and she was on the road to recovery. I opted to not spay her because of her age, a procedure that could have prevented more tumors, but was very invasive. The fact that she’d chewed herself open seemed to reenforce the wisdom of my decision. She was already 20 months old, so I made the choice of numbers. Perhaps she wouldn’t have any more.
The day came when I knew she had decided Pete was acceptable. If not true love on her part, he more than made up for it with his devotion. They moved in together and I was so happy when I came downstairs one morning to find her curled under him on their hammock. They had a few days of happiness before I noticed the second tumor. We had that one removed also with no immediate complications. Pete was an excellent nurse maid to his little white angel. But the stress of two surgeries so closely together, and adjusting to a new living arrangement was affecting her. She developed a myco lung flare up and went on antibiotics. Not a week later, I found another tumor. While I was getting her breathing issues under control so she could have another surgery, she developed another tumor. Then another. The antibiotics didn’t seem to be working as well. The vet switched her to another kind. She started going down hill quickly. The first of the two tumors grew to golf ball size in a shockingly short amount of time.
I knew she couldn’t survive another surgery. I’d made the wrong choice and the tumors won. She was happy in spite of the big ugly growths on her little body. She always met me at the cage door, and loved on me. She adored riding around with me, and loved having her ears stroked. She loved everyone in my family and seemed to relish being a rag doll for my sons, especially my oldest boy. She soaked up Pete’s devotion and even quit beating up on him. He brought her food and cuddled with her constantly.
The day before Thanksgiving I looked her over, saw the beginnings of ulceration on the biggest tumor, and saw that her eyes were tired. We were leaving town for a few days and but I knew I couldn’t make her wait until I came back. I made arrangements that day and let her go.
I’m glad that I could give her some of what she needed in the time I had her. She was with me just long enough to fall in love with her. Too, too short. I miss her horribly. Bye Miss Fattybottom, you little butterball. Enjoy the Land of New Feetsies until you see Pete again.
On the ride home from Atlanta in the car with my son. All she wanted was attention.
My favorite picture of Custard
Poofy and unhappy during intros...
The magic moment when Pete makes (second) contact.
Patiently bruxing and soothing his flustered Angel.
Much later during a play session on top of the Honeymoon Cottage with her new man.
Though you can't see her, she's hiding behind a boggling Pete in this picture. He really did love his girl.