We returned from Worthing rather late last night and lost track of time in front of the telly watching Britain’s Got Talent and Glee. Just before bed we realised that we’d been neglecting the rats, Castor and Pollux, so decided to take them out of their cage so that they could run around the living room during the night.
Unfortunately, Pol was looking rather sorry for himself. He’s not been well lately, and for the past three weeks has been getting rather thin, whilst slowly losing the use of his back legs. This is one of the danger signs with rats. They are prone to vestibular disease, which causes them to lose their balance and then the ability to use their tongues which means, unaided, they eventually starve to death.
Pol had gone all floppy, and when we tried to feed him a little treat, he tried desperately to eat it, but had lost the ability to chew. We wrapped him up warm, opened his mouth and gave him a few spoonfuls of sugary Ribena, and left him for the night.
He was a great deal worse this morning. The poor little fella could barely open his eyes, and seemed listless, unbalanced and very sorry for himself. He couldn’t eat anything and merely curled himself up in a corner of the cage, lying on his back, unable to turn himself over.
We took him to the vet in Canonbury and the news wasn’t good. The problem with rats is that very few vets truly understand them. Ours could only make wild guesses as to what the problem was but he didn’t seem to think there was much chance that Pol would get any better without invasive investigations which ran the risk of killing him anyway. In our heart of hearts we knew he was right, because the little creature had been showing all the signs of some sort of terminal illness.
So we made the decision to have him put down.
I’m struggling to find the words to say how awful it was. I know he’s only a little rat, but he’s lived with us for two years and been through all sorts of emotional problems in that time. About six months ago, however, when we finally began to understand him, and worked out how to handle him, he mellowed into a delightful, loving little pet.
I've never witnessed euthanasia before and it was deeply traumatic. I kept wanting to scream out and tell the vet to stop. “Let him come home with us – let him die naturally – this isn’t our decision to make.” The vet was hugely sympathetic. I think he was genuinely moved to see two grown men weeping like children over a tiny rat. He struggled to administer the injection and there were several false alarms, and poor Pol started screaming and lashing out. He bit Nathan – and put up such an astonishing fight, which just made everything feel so much worse. The injection plainly really hurt him and I'm not sure he was ready to die.
After the injection, it took about ten minutes before his heart stopped beating. We cuddled him as the breathing got shallower and shallower. A few twitches, a sigh and it was all over. We carried him away in his little box.
We buried him in Queen’s Wood, just underneath a tree, close to where we buried Maud, our last rat.
Heaven knows what Castor will do without Pollux. I hope he doesn’t just fade away.
Lovely Pol, 27th June 2010-8th May 2012
350 years ago, news came to London that the future Queen of England’s flotilla was making its way steadily along the south coast of England, having been spotted off the coast of Cornwall three days ago. Queen Catherine's journey from Portugal had been hellish by all accounts. There were terrible storms, which very nearly ripped the boats apart, and Queen Catherine had terrible bouts of sea sickness. Contemporary accounts suggest she remained dignified throughout, much assisted by Lord Sandwich, who brought musicians to her cabin every night to keep her spirits up.