Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A memorial

It's Veterans day, when people honor the dead and living who fought (or who are fighting) in the war. However, I would like to honor another, who did not die in battle. She fought her own silent war, as a victim of disease. I would like to honor and memorialize the passing of Pepper Junior, PJ for short- a rat with spunk, spark, silliness, and spirit.

Last year, I had been web surfing on Petfinder, a site for shelters to post adoptable animals, when I saw that there was a litter of baby rats at an animal rescue center a few hours away. At this time I was still in public school, so the day after school ended, we hopped in the car and picked up our friends Vi and PJ on June 14th, 2008. Vi was the spunkiest one in the cage, but PJ was the one set apart from the others. She huddled in the corner of the tank, and did not want to have anything to do with the other rats. My heart reached out to her, and we took Vi and PJ home. The little rats were only two months old, and still in awe of the world.

Once they were home, we promptly took them camping. Our family had never taken rats on camping trips, but it proved to be exciting for them. Once last summer, they camped for two weeks straight, when my mother had a forest service job, and my sister and I traveled with her to a small (and boring) town. Mom would drive two hours to tromp around the woods identifying plants for the service, and my sister and I would hang around the camp site and town. When the rats were let out each night, they loved nothing more that to jump off our heads onto hanging fabric and screen windows in the tent. Other shorter camping trips that same summer were just as fun for the girls.

PJ, who had originally been super shy, came out of her shell one day and became the leader of the two rodents. Vi, who had previously been top rat, was booted down a social level as PJ took command. She was always so athletic, and excited to do anything. The two girls were hilarious. hopping around their play areas. They especially liked the Christmas tree when it arrived that winter, climbing it and seeing the house in a whole new light. PJ enjoyed skittering down the branches, and going back up to hop on our shoulders and get carried somewhere else that was fun.

Beautiful, athletic PJ, Christmas 2008

Vi and PJ, enjoying their 2008 Christmas present- decorated rat sized ginger cookies. (top- PJ, bottom- Vi)

Spring and summer passed, and PJ was still in top form. She liked to crawl onto the floor and chase passing bunnies, and was always fascinated with the degus. Until early October. We began to notice a bulge at her stomach, but dismissed it as some excess fat. But she became less active, just eating and walking around a bit. It was hard for her to do exercise. She became obsessed with staring at the degus, and would do nothing else. It continued to get worse and worse, until finally, Friday November 6th, we took her to the vet. She could hardly get her feet to move her body because her tummy was so swollen. Her breathing was labored, and she was in obvious pain. After taking an x-ray and an ultrasound, the vet diagnosed uterine cancer. Without our knowing, cancer had sneaked into her body, entwining it's merciless fingers around her organs, and pushing on her spine and lungs. The veterinarian took PJ to surgery. But although we hoped for her to come home safely, the cancer was so severe and far gone, she had to be euthanize in her sleep. We received the call on the afternoon of Friday, November 6th, 2009.

PJ, 2 weeks prior to her passing

The whole family is so glad for the time we spent with PJ, but to me, death at one and a half years old still seems so young, even for a rat. Vi will hopefully be okay without the company of her sibling. We are spending lots of time with her.

PJ was such a beautiful rat, and a wonderful friend. I'll never forget her.


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