Diemo—One Cute Little Furry!
By Matt Harrigan, age 12, DE
On November 27, 1992, Diemo, my first and sweetest rat ever, had a heart attack caused by a respiratory infection and died. I really loved him, and he will be greatly missed. So in his honor I’ve decided to tell his life story.
“You want a Fawn Hooded rat?” asked the manager of Pet Village, a local pet store. “I’ll see what I can do.” “Yes!” Julie, my sister, said. “Soon I’ll have my first rat! She’ll be sooo cute!” But on pick-up day (rat pick-up day that is) Julie found out different. Sure there was a Fawn Hooded rat ready and waiting for her, but he was a boy. Julie decided right off that this rat was not for her—she had her heart set on a girl, but she had not specifically asked for one. So instead she picked out a crazy Agouti/Chocolate Hooded rat and named her Crystal. To this day Crystal has to be the rat version of Harry Houdini. But that’s not the point. Anyway, the Fawn Hooded rat was cute, but I wasn’t there to purchase a furry, I was there to scope out the lizard section! I’d been saving up for a long time so I had the money to get a rat and set-up, and after all, rats were more cuddly than lizards, so I decided to go for it! I thought that if I decided not to get a rat, that it would go to some other loving person who’d take good care of it. Boy was I wrong! When the lady told me what would eventually happen to the rats who weren’t sold to people like me, I was mortified! I’d never felt more sorry for anything before because of just two words: snake bait. How could such cute little furry guys be sacrificed? Well, I decided to buy that little Fawn Hooded rat right then and there. I’d been hearing so much about rats from Julie that I figured taking care of one would be a breeze, so I said, “I’ll take him! (Quite enthusiastically I might add.)
Diemo Begins a Pampered Life
Well, I took him home and that was the beginning of Diemo. He was named after the outermost moon of Mars, Diemos. When we got home I set up his cage and put him in to settle down. Little did I know this was the beginning of a great relationship. Diemo had such a great personality—he was so easy to tame. I just handled him a lot and used his name tons of times. He, unlike Crystal, was not a jitterbug. He was always calm and collected and sooo sweet!
Well, about three months later he had almost completely grown up. We were so close that we kind of had our own little routine. When I came home from school every day I would go right upstairs and greet him. Then I’d take him out and put him on the bed while I changed. When I was done changing, we’d go downstairs, I’d get him a treat, I’d put him in my lap (I sat Indian-style), and he and I would do homework together. Sometimes he even stretched out and went to sleep right there in my lap.
In the summer I played with him a lot. Sometimes we even went bike riding together, with Diemo sitting on my shoulder while I rode. Being the only kid (or one of only two kids) in Delaware to have a pet rat gave me and Diemo (or Little Furry as I sometimes called him) a lot of attention. Neighborhood kids would stop what they were doing and ask to pet him. Even adults, who are usually skittish around rodents, especially rats, liked him.
We did lots of other things too. One time I even brought him into school. He slept most of the time but everyone said that he was really cute.
Diemo Becomes Ill
But Diemo sneezed a lot. At first I didn’t think anything of it which turned out to be a BIG mistake. You see, I’d been using cedar wood shavings for a long time (ever since I got Diemo). Of course at the time, I thought cedar shavings were just peachy. But then I saw Debbie Ducommun’s article in Rat & Mouse Tales. I immediately switched to pine, but I think I was too late. By now this seemingly “little” problem had grown into a real whopper. That is, whenever Diemo got excited he gasped through his mouth for air! It was definitely time for a trip to the vet. Of course it was hard to find a vet that would examine a rat, but we managed. Anyway, when we got there he seemed fine (naturally). When we went in to see the doctor she said that he had a bad case of pneumonia, and she prescribed two doses of amoxicillin per day. For a while he seemed to be getting better. In fact, he lasted through Thanksgiving. But the day after, he plunged into a horrible state. He was so sick that he couldn’t move. I felt so sorry for him. I knew he wanted me to pick him up, but he couldn’t climb up to my arms so I picked him up myself. He laid there for a while and then he shook his legs rapidly and then lay there—still. Then I realized he was gone. He had had a heart attack right there in my arms. I immediately burst into tears. I was like that for days. I buried him in the garden and planted some flowers around his grave. I really loved him. I’ll miss him a lot.
By Dawn Kozak, Warren, MI
I’m a rat lover. At the present time I have 28 rats. I’m not a breeder; they’re all pets. They all have names and their own special personalities. Each and every one gets my love and attention. Every evening I bring them all out in shifts for “play time.” Shifts because of age. I find that cuts down on the fights and jealousy. My males are all neutered so I don’t have to worry about a “growing” population.
I love each and every rat. But a person can’t help to hold some of the more unique or different personality rats a little more dear. So I must admit I have “most favorites.” So starts my story of Blackie the rat.
One day while at the pet store I broke my vow and went to look at the feeder rats. There was Blackie, about seven-weeks-old. A beauty! I already had five rats at home, but what was one more to love? I bought Blackie and another rat, Jack. Jack just in case my other five didn’t accept Blackie.
Well my five musketeers didn’t take kindly to Blackie and Jack. I decided it would be best to take Blackie and Jack back. It hurt to do it but I thought I was doing what was best.
Two months later I was thinking about Blackie and decided to go to the pet store to see if she was still there. She was. I asked if I could buy her. I was told no, she was the store breeder. I went to the manager and told her that I was the one who brought Blackie in and that I regretted doing so. Could I please have her back? Finally she gave in, but had to charge me more for her than the normal rat price because she was to be the store breeder. And for the food they fed her for the two month stay. I didn’t care, we were going home!
She was reintroduced to now 15 rats. (Accident before neutering.) She now had free run of two 35-gallon and two 20-gallon tanks that I had set up on two walls in the corner of my living room. “Free Free,” she exclaimed! Just watching her scope everything out I knew I had a trouble maker on my hands. She seemed to get along with everyone, only to find out she was cohorting with the others to recruit more trouble makers. She being their leader of course.
One of the 20-gallon tanks sat on a steel book shelf. The shelf was about three inches longer than the aquarium and had one inch squared legs. Blackie with that oh so intelligent and mischievous rat brain, devised a plan. She rounded up her recruits, Diamond, Levi, and Pegasus. “Hey you guys, if we stretch down to the shelf we can slide down one of those legs”, she said. “I’ll go first.” So she did. And the recruits followed. Now begins the wire splicing! Those four partied!
Me wracking my brain with ways to fix that three inch gap to the legs, could not keep Blackie in. All my tactics did finally stop the other three. But not Blackie. I started to think she was magic or something. One night I came home to find the blinds moving. What could it be? Blackie of course, on the window sill making little paw prints on the foggy window. I swear she just looked at me and grinned when I went to get her.
So, if not somewhere in the house, she could be found on the window sill. I finally had to rearrange the living room when she chewed the cord to the blinds. I found that out one day when I went to open the blinds and got a hand full of cord and no open blind!
She didn’t learn. She could get or be anywhere! I started locking her up for a while. But I really hated to do that. So I stopped. I just decided...that’s Blackie.
It was all kind of fun actually. I made a game out of it. Where will Blackie be next?
Sometimes I’d find her on the top shelf of the towel rack in the bathroom. I couldn’t figure that one out. It was an aluminum rack. The shelves a good foot-and-a-half to two feet apart. It stood alone.
One morning I was getting ready for work. (I make it a practice to sit on the counter with my feet in the sink to put my make-up on. I do this because I’m as blind as a bat and that’s the only way I can get closer to the mirror.) Well, in the reflection in the mirror I caught a glimpse of Blackie in the bathroom. She was on the bottom shelf of the towel rack messing up the rat towels and rags. To my amazement, I watched Blackie shimmy up that aluminum pole, rest on the second shelf, then shimmy her way to the top shelf! I swear to you that pole is as smooth as can be. I could not believe it! She was amazing. (I might be as blind as a bat, I did have to squint, hard, but that’s what I saw.) There was nothing else she could have pulled herself up on.
I started talking to her and she slid down. She came across the bathroom and jumped onto the side of the wicker waste basket. Of course she had to jump in and inspect the contents. She then proceeded to jump into the toilet. (This beginning the “toilet must always be shut” rule that’s still posted on the lid.) I got her out, dried her off and set her back down. The little “swim” didn’t stop my Black Rat. “Mom” was sitting in the sink and Blackie wanted to see what she was doing! Blackie jumped to the basket, jumped on top of the toilet, and jumped to the counter. (All in a line) She loved it! But that wasn’t enough, no, she wanted to look in the mirror too. So she stuck out those nails and tore her way up mom’s robe and onto her shoulder. “Too cool,” she thought. I sat real still because I didn’t want her to slide down my robe and hurt herself. I tilted my head onto her back in kind of a hug. Well she took this as “hop on.” What a sight. Me in my bathrobe, sitting in the sink, with a rat on top of my wet head! New or the real meaning to “rat-ted” hair! She made a ritual out of this for a couple days. Although I had to cut out the head part, because if I didn’t tilt my head she’d try to climb up my face. So the counter or my lap was it.
It was always so fun with her. A rat Dennis the Menace! She’d get on the bed when I slept, and wake me up by running her tail across my face. That scared the heck out of me the first time! I could fly that morning! It was a lot of fun. Always there to greet me in the mornings. She’d come up and stand on my foot. (My own “live” rat slipper. Too bad she didn’t bring a cohort for the other foot!)
Time went by and Blackie remained one of my “more special” rats. She continued to make me laugh and greet me in the mornings. She slowed down just a little in April of 1993 from a mammary tumor. I couldn’t stand to see her like that. I had five females now with tumors, and I had just lost THE MOST SPECIAL rat I had, Eliphas. Eliphas was my very first rat and my best friend. She had many complications in her life. Glaucoma, in which the vet removed her eye; a large mammary tumor where she lost all her hair; and then finally suffered a stroke. There was no way I was going to lose any more of my kids. I took the five girls in to have their tumors removed. I only went home with three. And thank the Lord Blackie was one of them. (Though it hurt to lose any of them.)
But, Blackie being the trooper she always was didn’t pout, whine, or take it easy. She bounced right back. And I had my buddy back again.
In June I brought in some new rats that brought my population up to 27. But I wanted fancy rats. Not knowing that I should have quarantined them, I had a terrible situation with lice. I brought home lice! My originals were stressed from new animals being in the house and then had to suffer with lice. Then they (the originals) decided to snub me. Even my buddy Blackie. I got rid of the lice, moved the kitchen furniture to the attic (I don’t cook at all!) and put the new rats in the kitchen. This cheered up my originals considerably.
Blackie was back to herself. Two years old now, she was slowing down a little. Her hair was thinning. I’m not sure if it was from age or from the lice sprays and dips I put them through. In September I noticed that another tumor had started to grow in the same spot as the first one. She was still pretty feisty, and being two-years-old I didn’t want to subject her to another surgery. I didn’t want to lose her.
October 4 I noticed a new growth by Blackie’s ear/jaw area. I prayed it wasn’t some other kind of tumor and put her on antibiotics. October 18 there was still no change. The lump was still pretty large and she was having a discharge from her ear. I did some reading from Debbie Ducommen’s Rat Fan Club newsletters and read about abscesses. This looked like what was described in a tooth abscess story. I made some calls and was told it sounded like an abscess and possibly from her incisors. I was also told that if it was an abscess the antibiotics should have cleared it up. Obviously it was time to see the vet.
October 20 we went to the vet. I told her about the tooth story I read and asked her to please check her teeth. Well, the diagnosis was an abscess and not from her teeth. The vet couldn’t tell me where or how the abscess originated. She did lance it (yuck), and told me that I had to flush it out twice a day and give her Bactrim twice a day. While showing me how to “properly” flush the abscess she pulled the abscess apart and told me that she cut the muscle to make sure the infection wasn’t any deeper. She said to make sure that I got the syringe inside that cut when I flushed it. I asked her if the infection was in the muscle and she said no, it was only under the skin.
I hated having to do that to Blackie. She hated it more. But when we were done she still gave me all her lovin’. That was my girl. At this point I didn’t bother putting Blackie up any more. She had free roam of the house. She’d follow me everywhere. If I lay on the floor, Blackie crawled up and would lay on my back. She was my shadow. This made me feel all the worse when it was “flushing” time. But she put up with it.
By October 28 I was still getting a lot of pus from the abscess. It had almost doubled in size. It was affecting her one eye, and boy did she smell! Back to the vet. I asked her again about the teeth, even brought in the article about the tooth abscess. The vet was rude. I don’t think she liked me questioning her diagnosis. She cleaned out the abscess again, took me in the back and showed me how to “properly” clean it out. She also banged on all of Blackie’s teeth, pulled at the front ones, to prove to me that her teeth were fine. Even though Blackie was put under I felt she was being abused. We were given a new antibiotic and an eye gel and was told to use sterile water for the flushing instead of the Bentadine/water solution.
November 8. No improvement. Blackie lost a substantial amount of weight. Back in to see the vet. “Hum,” maybe it is the teeth the vet said. “I’ll need to take some x-rays.” The x-rays didn’t show anything wrong with her teeth. Nor did they show any infection in her jaw bone. “Maybe it’s the wrong antibiotic.” “Let’s put her on another one, Baytril, four times a day and keep flushing.” So two hundred dollars later, all this time had passed, I still didn’t know what was wrong with my little girl and why!
November 15. Two nights earlier I noticed how uneven Blackie’s teeth were. I tugged gently on her incisors, they seemed fine. I knew this would cause trouble eating. I was already soaking her lab blocks to soften them up. I got some baby food and Nutri-cal. Her appetite was gone. The next day her jaw was distinctly over to one side. Now was time for a second opinion. I wish I would have done that sooner. But I was already seeing the most recommended exotic animal doctor in this area.
After checking Blackie out, reading her records, looking at the x-rays, she came up with two things we could do. The first - euthanasia. The second - run a series of blood tests and cultures. She said that there was something going wrong in Blackie’s system to make her not respond to any antibiotic. She suggested that the mammary tumor might play a role in it. (The first one was benign.) But there was definitely something going wrong on the inside. She also said she couldn’t guarantee that the test would show what was wrong. It was the weekend so she couldn’t do anything at that time. I was told it would be about $127 for these tests if and when I decided to have them done.
Blackie got special pampering over the weekend. She was really slowing down now. I had to use an eye dropper to get her to take water. I had time to go through my finances and there was no way I could squeeze in another $127. Especially after the $200 I just spent. And no guarantee that I’d get an answer to what was wrong. If only I would have seen another vet sooner.
Blackie held on as long as she could. Every minute I was home she laid on my chest. If I spoke to her, she’d lift her head the best that she could. I cried rivers that last night. She died November 17, 1993, between 2-5 A.M. I know she must have known how much she was loved. And I know she loved me too. Does she know how much she’ll be missed? How hard it’s going to be to not have that one slipper in the morning? She was such a special friend. She was my girl. At least I can be comforted to know that Eliphas can take care of her now. I’ll always have that special place in my heart for you Blackie. All my love to you little girl!