Tucker has moved on to the Land of New Feetsies. My first boy, my darling boy. The last of my original three rats. Mellow Tucker came home to me at the age of seven weeks old with his two almost identical smudgy black brothers Explorer Jeffery, and Shy Windham. They were the experiment in trying my hand at owning something a little bit more than your average pocket pet.
I have always preferred the idea of pocket pets. They require so much less in terms of time and daily commitment than dogs or cats, and appeal to my warm blooded preferences more than snakes or fish.
I’d owned mice, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, and have attempted to like guenea pigs. Up until these boys, I avoided rats, probably for the same reason most people avoid rats: Because they are culturally understood as beady eyed, plague dropping, snake tailed, face chewers. However, I’d also
read a book as a child insisting that rats were the cleanest, calmest, and most rewarding of all common pocket pets.
Weighing the two perceptions, I started research to see which was truer. Then, going along with the favorable version but also reading so many avoidable horror stories (usually for the rat) about purchasing from pet stores, I took the plunge by getting on a hobby breeder’s waiting list. I lucked out and happened upon a very reputable hobby breeder --still the only breeder I can ethically endorse wholeheartedly within 600 miles.
She took a chance on me, educated me on proper rat husbandry, and sent me home with three soon to be massive beady eyed, plague dripping, snake tailed face chewers. They were even black. I promptly named them after Katherine Tucker Windham, and dubbed them The Alabama Ghost Boys, a slight hat tip to The Foggy Bottom Boys and Mrs Windham’s books about Alabama ghosts.
The first thing they taught me is that they were cleaner than any pet I’ve ever had—look ma, no plague. The second thing they showed me-- they and the rats who came after-- is that they are most definitely not face chewers. I’ve been bitten by mice, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, and even an evil guenea pig. My rats never bit me. I’m sure the could have, and I’m sure they might have, but they showed me that it just wasn’t in their temperment to be likely. The third thing they showed me is that they liked me. Not because I was a handy conveyance or playground like other small rodents, but because they enjoyed hanging out with me. And of the three of them, especially Tucker.
In temperment, Tucker was ideal. Not because he was especially people friendly and squishyluv like my later boy, the younger Zmei, but because he was a solid, calm, and level headed rat. He was the rat I brought in to play when my younger boys were generally misbehaving or stressed. To abuse a recient analogy I heard, he was like that older, steady and wise plow horse yolked to the skittish young colt to calm it down and teach it manners and the way of going.
After starting with the three original Ghost Boys, I soon added four more youngsters to the mix, the aforementioned Zmei, baby half brother Black Pete, and my two little hairless drama queens Skinner and Melon. Tucker was the one who bridged the crew together. In his prime he was a partner and anchor to his more adventureous and less tolerant litter mate Jeffrey, protector of ‘fat kid’ Zmei, secondary role model and teacher to Black Pete, and persistant, no nonsense task master to the bratty hairless twins.
He was my partner too. I relied on him to teach and calm the rest of the crew during new experiences. If I had new medication, he was the first who demonstrated that it was tolerable. If I rearranged their toys, he showed them how to manuver the new obsticles. If one of the boys had to go to the vet, it was Tucker who came along to keep him calm. He never got flustered. He always looked calm and content with his big solid brick of glossy black self. Jokingly I described him as The Godfather. He’d wander through, and every other rat would stop what they were doing to pay him respect and offer him space.
He calmed me too. I’ve heard multi cat owners say they’ll gravitate to a special cat when they need soothing. Tucker was my boy. I’d bring him out when I needed to settle my day-ruffled feathers. He’d slouch on me like a floppy hand weight because he was so densely packaged, and watch tv or supervise my computer time. I’ve watched a lot of TV with Tucker in the last couple of years. I’d like to say he liked River Monsters as much as I did. His favorite chair has always been my shoulder. If he wasn’t on my shoulder he was in his cubby hole on my desk, where he mantained a hysterically varied horde stashe: Candy, coins, pill bottles, jewelry, cheerios, assorted flotsom, and as many children’s toys as he could find.
He was always comforably healthy too. Other than a couple of minor brushes with URI’s quickly treated, and a non-cancerous and slow growing mammary tumor at 18 months, I never had a problem with him, no matter what stress I introduced into his world. He just never let anything get to him. He aged gracefully and well, outliving both of his brothers and even one of the younger baby boys.
At his two year birthday, he was still going strong but soon ceded leadership of the cage to a now full grown and full of beans little brother Black Pete. Black Pete had just lost his best friend Jeffrey, and dealt with his grief by terrorizing the rest of the cage. But still calm, Tucker recognized that the student had become the master, and stepped down into retirement.
Now Old Man Tucker, my boy enjoyed extra attention from everyone, and they all treated him like a grandfather. He had his own theme song: “Get out the way, for Old Man Tucker, he’s too cute to miss his supper”.
Around 28 months I started noticing a little dragging in his hind end. Hind end degeneration, common with old boy rats was settling in, as was weight loss and other general old rat issues. He handled it all in stride, and even with decreasing back leg use, he navigated the cage as well as anyone. He relished the extra treats, baby wipe baths, and oatmeal dinners his old age afforded him.
Also at 28 months, we introduced five new ‘rescue’ (not so much rescue, but helping a friend) girls to the house, and as a precaution against ‘oopses’ with two grade school boys in my house, I went ahead and had Old Man Tucker neutered. He tolerated the surgery well, and adapted to Women in his world.
Though he never got the opportunity to live with them, he knew they were there and reacted in his usual unflappable style. While the other boys swung from their bars like low class monkeys, he seemed to be constantly shaking his head at them and suggesting that they quit making fools of themselves.
At 30 months I noticed him slowing down at last. He liked sleeping a lot more-Bilbo Baggins at Rivendale. “Just resting my eyes”. Our together time was coming to an end. He stayed until almost 32 months. In the end, he went quietly, from what I suspect might have been a stroke given his body positioning…but then again, he may have just calmly chosen his moment to move on. The three other boys were cuddled around him, so I didn’t know he was gone at first. They all came out for their dinner, and he didn’t. He was still warm, though it may have just been the warmth of his family. We all loved you little dude.
At two months old, comfortable wherever he is....
...and always with a smile.
At 8 months old, in his favorite spot...
Tucker going Trick or Treating with me.
Doin' the Dangle at 11 months old.
Post surgery trooper. He did so well. And he was determined to get his scrambled egg.
One of my favorite group shots of my four furry boys. Tucker is calmly hanging out on the left, with Zmei, Black Pete, and Jeffrey ranging out to his right.
Tucker at 2 years old, still exploring and playing strong.
And at 31 months...not letting a little thing like a handicap slow him down.