Sitting at my computer at 6am on a Sunday morning – a huge mug of comforting coffee beside me and Perry as my companion, interchangeably peering at me from behind my laptop screen or from any of the shelves beside me, his whiskery nose quivering over the book edges, and now and then climbing into my arms for a cuddle when he needs it most.
He doesn’t quite know what to make of his world this morning, and, to be honest, neither do I. I have kept small pets virtually all my life. My little grey gerbil Rustler was my first lesson in love and loss when I was only nine or ten, my childhood rats defined my early teenage years, and in the last seven years, during which time we’ve given home to twelve rats, four hamsters and our rabbit, I have known continually that while these little pets can bring a disproportionate level of joy and character into a home, they also come with a measure of inevitable heartache when their short chapters come to a close. Usually, as much as I miss our little ones when they’re gone, I am able to make my peace with this, and in general we have been very blessed with full lives and gentle aging for most of our mischief as they’ve lived out their days.
Just last week however, we had to make the final decision to say goodbye to our little Reuben at just 15 months old, after a month or two of illness we managed as best and as long as we could; and yesterday, unbelievably, we also bade an unexpected farewell to Marley, Reuben’s brother and another of the loveliest rats we’ve ever been blessed with.
Marley had had some respiratory issues over the six months he lived with us, and I had written recently that he’d been on a couple of rounds of Baytril to try to clear any underlying infection and that we were doing steam treatments in the bathroom to help him out; but in general although his breathing was sometimes noisy, he always looked a picture of health and never seemed to be suffering with it. His last course of anti-biotics seemed to have helped and on Friday night Marley, Perry and I spent a long quiet evening on the settee, him in full health and scarpering playfully across the top of the cushions. Yesterday morning however, we woke to him struggling desperately to breathe and virtually unable to. We rushed him to the vets, who put him on oxygen and did everything they could, but sadly there was nothing at all that could help him, and eventually we had to give the go-ahead for our beautiful boy to be put to sleep and his suffering ended.
I still can’t quite take it in this morning and found myself sleepless here and needing to somehow write it all out.
Marley was very close in character to Reuben and, we believe, a full brother to him. They were both dumbos and both two of the most gentle-natured rats we’d come across. We had already adopted Reuben and Perry last November and had them with us for six weeks when their previous owner had contacted us about another rat she had, who had unexpectedly ended up on his own after she had lost a couple of her others, and who she hoped we would consider taking, as he had previously lived with Reuben and Perry and she knew he would settle with them and be happy. She couldn’t have been more right – bringing him home and letting him meet (or re-meet) R&P barely counted as an introduction, the three of them just curled together instantly and lived in absolute harmony from the first second they were back together.
It was a few days before Christmas that we were asked to take him, and for us, for many reasons, it was a difficult time and not one we would have been in any way looking to add a new pet to our family. But it made sense as a solution, and we agreed to help, not knowing then what joy it would come to bring us.
We brought Marley home on Christmas Eve, naming him for Jacob from A Christmas Carol, in honour of his unexpected arrival into our home on that night, and it didn’t take us long, even in the midst of loss and turmoil, to realise how lovely he really was. Our three boys have lived together in such a truly lovely mischief all these months, the balance between them always perfect.
One of the most difficult things to deal with today is Perry on his own. I would never have guessed when we moved in here with four rats just three months ago that we’d be down to one, when three were nowhere near that age, and it puts us in a difficult position. Perry is very much a rat’s rat, although he has discovered a cuddlier side when out with us at night in the last few weeks, and it would not be fair to keep him on his own, especially when – although there are of course no guarantees – he should have quite a bit of life still ahead of him. It would only be right for him to have friends again, and we would either need to adopt more and introduce them to him – something we’re nervous to do after not managing successfully to get Reuben & Perry and Ty & Harvey in together last year – or, as much as it would hurt, find another group of rats Perry could go to. I don’t think I could really bear that, and it’s all so difficult to have to think about, but we have agreed for just now to rush into nothing and over the next few days do what we can to be there for Perry and give him plenty of time with us.
I’m well aware this blog, usually full of sunrises and sunsets with the horse and fun ideas for games with the wee ones, has taken a depressing turn, but can’t do anything except write it all down.
Marley was a really, really wonderful pet. I will always be glad we took him on, and can’t count the mornings and evenings I’ve sat with him on my shoulder dozing and bruxing away and the way that most simple of things, passing virtually unnoticed, added to my daily life. I’m so glad that before he lost Reuben, who he was so attached to, we all had such a lovely week together away on our holiday, and that he had Perry’s closeness too in his last week without Reuben. Our Friday night was in some ways like any other but I did stop in the middle of it – just cosied on the couch, favourite cosy TV programme playing on the TV, book beside me still open, my husband at the computer just beside us, and both Marley and Perry under a blanket with me, Marley bruxing and boggling and Perry curled fast asleep in what’s recently become a new habit of being more relaxed and cuddly with us than ever – to realise how special it was.
We will never forget Marley, our Christmas Eve boy who came to us just when we needed him most and filled ours, Reuben’s and Perry’s life with happiness.