When this time of year comes around and the nights are drawing in once more, my mind inevitably drifts to daydreams about cosy nights in by the fire, the key turning in the lock against a windy night, mugs of hot chocolate, big cosy jumpers – and now, also in that same lovely picture, often to the memory of Pipkin, our raggedy-eared champagne hooded rat and one of our most special former pets. The very fact that those cosy memories include him, in spite of him only having lived with us for a comparatively short 14 months, tells its own story about what a huge character he was and what an impact he had on our little family.
(Pipkin, September 2014)
We adopted him in August 2014, planning to add him to our little mischief at home, which at the time consisted only of Chae and Winston, who were coming up for a year old and who we hoped to introduce a friend to. Pipkin was a rescue rat, as many of our others had also been, but was in a worse state than we first expected when we met him – he was a big and clearly handsome rat even then but what was most striking about him was how petrified he was – fluffed up and wheezy, he was wild with fear and cowered from being handled. He had also had most of both his ears bitten off in fights with cagemates he’d had in the past – as a result of which he was now a lone rat – and what would become his trademark jaggy-headed outline was shaking as he was picked up by a handler and squeaked and squealed. It would take us a long time to iron out his issues and piece together what we could of his past but in that moment I had never seen a rat more in need of help and knew we had to take him home and do whatever we could.
Back at the house, we discovered he had quite a bad skin condition underneath his fur and also had a severe chest infection. We made the earliest appointment we could at the vet’s the next day but for that night all we could think to do to ease his skin slightly was a warm bath – something I was not keen on attempting having had very little success in convincing even our most trusting rats in the past to do, but that amazingly Pipkin took in his stride. It wasn’t how we wanted to greet him and I can only imagine what an ordeal it was all in one day but as we held and washed him as best we could he made absolutely no complaint, just watched us with a calmness he hadn’t had before, and I honestly think from that moment made a decision that we were on his side and we were to be trusted. Once he’d seen the vet and been given all the meds he needed, it was a slow road to recovery, but one he handled so well.
As we got to know him, it became a bit clearer how his little life had turned out the way it had – for one thing he was almost completely if not completely blind, which we realised when we introduced him to his new cage and saw how he struggled with it until we’d helped him around it a while first, and how much he panicked about new or unexpected things, which we can only guess contributed significantly to his difficulties relating to other rats and the fights that had led to losing his ears. In the beginning, we really didn’t know whether he would pull through from his infections or not, and I told myself I was glad just to be giving him the best chance and at least some positives in his last few weeks if nothing more, but when, a week in, we thought we might lose him, I was as broken-hearted as if we’d had him years. Our Pipkin really had my heart from the word go.
(Pipkin’s way of sussing out the world around him, sniffing and whisker-ing his way.)
Thankfully, he did make it, and over the coming months really came into his own. Having seen so many times the joy rats get from company I still hoped for that for Pipkin and we planned to slowly and carefully introduce him to Chae and Winnie, but in our early attempts it became sadly clear that it was not something we could achieve – there was aggression and then there was Pipkin when faced with the other boys. I have never seen anything like it and could never have run the risk of having them together for any of them. The bizarre thing was though while he was ready to kill the other rats Pipkin would never in a million years have hurt one of us or any person at all. He was the gentlest soul you could wish for, and craved attention and human company, spending nearly every evening of his life sat between us on the couch for as long as he could just as content as can be, and so many weekend mornings lying on our bed, sleeping at complete peace.
(In some of his favourite places, coorying in ❤ )
Once we got established what life would be for him, we were able to get him settled into a routine and he really started to flourish. Making sure he got enough time out of his cage and that Rosie and Chae and Winnie did too was a challenge at first – free ranging in three groups hadn’t been in the plan but little Rose always needed such a short time and we’d make sure the other boys had had their run and plenty time with us – as they were very much people rats too – and then bring Pipkin out after for the rest of the evening as he’d mainly just sit happy to be there. He lived for cosiness and long nights in – the first night we lit the fire after he arrived was like Christmas for him, straining into the cosiness held fast on a knee and enjoying the crackling and the atmosphere. Film nights with the duvet on the couch were his all-time favourite – one election night when we stayed there all night to watch the results and he was allowed to stay with us til morning must have been his perfect night. I have a photo I will be glad to have forever from the night before our wedding, sitting in pyjamas on the floor in front of the fire with Pipkin in my arms and Chae and Winnie in their cage just behind us, all of us on the brink of a new era.
(Loving the fire! October 2014)
Over time and with age Pipkin did mellow a little about the presence of other animals and lived happily in our little pet corner with Chae and Winnie, and later Harvey and Ty, in the next cage, as well as Rosie just above him, unfazed by their proximity and in fact often choosing to sleep quite close to the edge where his cage lined up with the other rats’ – but he didn’t ever desire to share his space and instead preferred just to curl himself in comfy pet beds which he got so attached to.
(Chae, Winston, Harvey and Ty lying together in their cage in March 2015, with Pipkin behind them next door in his own lying close to the others.)
(In his favourite beds in his cage).
He also shook off all nervousness about new people, happily greeting family and friends, although always just needing a little time to sniff at whatever new person or thing was before him first of all. He loved a blanket, and it was always quite the challenge to check all cushions and blankets on couches for him before sitting down just in case as he’d have curled all day in one if left to his own devices!
Pipkin lived to see his 2nd birthday, an amazing achievement for him considering he’d been dogged by respiratory problems all his days, and it was lovely to be able to celebrate that before we lost him. When he slipped away in our arms in October 2015, it was hard to believe it was only just over a year since he’d really settled into his life with us. He had been such an amazing character. Probably partly because he had such a long journey to happiness, and partly because we were all he had, the love and trust Pipkin had given us against all the odds had been overwhelming.
(Opening his stocking, Christmas morning 2014)
We had got to know him in the autumn months of 2014, and said our last goodbye to him at the same time last year. This year, coming into the season again, I know without a shadow of a doubt that for so many more to come, the warmth of October nights by the fire will be intertwined in my mind with happy memories of sharing them with our raggedy-eared, handsome, one-of-a-kind Pipkin rat.