Flowers for Addison

It’s hard to have a pet die in your hands and remain unmoved. My ten year old daughter keeps pet rats, as I did when I was a kid. And if you have never had pet rats, you have entirely the wrong impression of rats. They’re excellent pets. Affectionate, tame, intelligent. Easy to care for […]

It’s hard to have a pet die in your hands and remain unmoved.

My ten year old daughter keeps pet rats, as I did when I was a kid. And if you have never had pet rats, you have entirely the wrong impression of rats. They’re excellent pets. Affectionate, tame, intelligent. Easy to care for and not particularly stinky as small caged rodents go.

I had a lot of rats when I was growing up. One that would ride in the pocket of my army field jacket all day. I had a number of them when I was in my twenties as well, one or two at a time. My daughter got her first rat a few years ago and we’ve had several since. She adores them.

Rats don’t live very long though. Two or three years, tops. Most are lucky to see two years. I recall them living longer when I was a kid, maybe they were less prone to infections, maybe they were raised differently, or maybe I just remember it through the blurred lens of memory.

Given how many rats I’ve owned, it takes a lot for one to stand out. Most rats are pretty much just rats; all about the same. The odds ones are memorable; one who had some sort of neurological disorder and would sway, and the sometimes leap at you and strike when startled. She was a beautiful tawny ray with deep red eyes, but not at all right in the head. The one I had when I was a kid who loved in my coat pocket. A couple of others that I particularly remember.

Sunday, we lost possibly the best pet rat we’ve ever had.


She was a sort of a windfall. We had too many rats at the time already, four, kept in a big ferret cage. We had no intention of buying another. But we made a stop in Petaluma, CA on the way home from Oregon, and I took my kids to a pet shop while Barb shopped for something.

Addison was in a huge converted aquarium full of rats, and she came out to see us, as eager and friendly as any little rat I’ve ever seen. She tried to climb the wall of the tank to get to us.

Olivia, my ten year old, begged to get her. Offered to spend her own money, earned babysitting her sister on our Oregon trip, if I’d let her take this little rat home.

I played the weak parent, used “We’ll have to ask mom” as a dodge. Cheap technique but it’s sometimes the best way to get out without buying a pet. But in this case, it didn’t work, because this rat was so endearing, no one could resist her. Barb was as smitten as Olivia.

This little rat rode home with us, nestled in Olivia’s clothing, all the way from northen California, across the foggy golden gate bridge. We all remembered that day, the little rat snugged down in olivia’s shirt collar for warmth when the temperature dropped when we hit the SF fog.

She never changed, from that friendly, eager, hyperactive little pup she was. Olivia named her Addie after a character in “Dial-A-Ghost” by Eva Ibbotson, though later she changed the rat’s name to Addison. Addie was the rat counterpart to Olivia; never still for a moment. Like two hyperactive peas in — well, never in for long, usually out of — a pod.

Many pet rats need to be socialized, tamed. They need time to get used to being handled, being around people. Not Addie, she was instantly happy and comfortable around people, always moving. We let our rats roam the house when possible, and where many of them will wander off and need finding later, Addie would always return as if to check that we’re still where we belong. Soon, she would come when called, first with the usuall kissing, clucking noises that seem to be a universal animal call, but later when called by name.

When she was in the cage, she was always moving. Not much of a wheel-runner, she’s instead climb the cage walls and walk upside-down like a bat on the underside of the cage top. She never stopped doing this, even in a smaller cage, even the last week of her life. We had other, older rats in the big cage with her, and she’d annoy the hell out of them; she was never daunted by thier rough treatment, never gave ground even when the adults beat up on her.

One by one, the elder four rats died; each one lamented, but no one a particularly special pet. Soon she was alone, and we moved her in with another rat oddity, a hairless dumbo rat named Chibi, about whom I’ll talk later. Chibi looks like a cross between Gollum, Dobby the House Elf, and a small ferret. She’s a deeply odd creature, wholly unlike a rat in many ways. She and Addison formed an odd-couple, and were by pure coincidence the two most unique, social, friendly rats I’ve ever had. I’m not really sure either one had any idea they were the same species; they certainly don’t look it.

We’ve known for a while that Addie was getting old. You can tell – they start to get skinny, they slow down, they have more respiritory trouble. It always seems too soon; when you live to be two and a half, you’re aging almost before you’re an adult. They tend to go quickly once they start looking old, yet for all the Addie had the signs, she never stopped being active. We could tell she was losing her hearing because she didn’t come when she was called as well, and that her eyesight was going, since she seemed to find treats more by smell. But she would still romp when we let her out, she wrestle with Chibi, still climb and bat-walk. She’d sit still, though, when it was cold, crawling into our clothes for warmth. That was one of the biggest signs she was old, for the first time, she wasn’t hyperactive.

No matter how many I’ve lost, it’s never easy. I’ve kept snakes and fed them live rats; I’ve had to euthenize animals. I’ve even dealt with human death without crying, when my brother committed suicide. But it never is really easy when a family pet goes. No matter how much you expect it, no matter how much you’re used to it, it still hurts.

Sunday morning. My dear frined Andie, as beloved by my children as she is by me, was over making breakfast with me. Simple family sunday morning, fantastic french toast, my super-strong coffee which Andie describes as liquid crack. After breakfast, Olivia went to clean her rat cage (something she takes very seriously.) She came in with a worried tone and said “I think there’s something wrong with Addison.”

I knew instantly. The rat was lying on the bottom of the cage. Even from across the room I could tell something was wrong. When I got close, I could see her gasping for breath. She was icy cold to the touch, and unable to move. A stroke, we think; she’d been active earlier that morning.

It’s one of the times one wishes one could pray.

I took the tiny ice-cold body of of the cage and held her against me to try to warm her. I could feel hear heaving, struggling, breathing only by pure force of will. I tried to wrap a rag around her to warm her but having it over her face upset her, so I used my arms and hands and the skin of my chest
to cradle her and warm her.

Oh, god, I thought, wishing, but not praying, don’t let this take a long time.

She struggled to breath, each one a little harder. I tried to stroke between her eyes, something that always made her sleep, but she triesd to squirm away. Then, as her cold body began to warm, I could feel her relax.

One breath. Two. Gasps, each one, her mouth gaping, her head rearing back with the effort.

And then she tucked her head down against my arm, tensed, then relaxed, like an animal getting ready to sleep. Warm, finally, and thinking, I can sleep now.

And she stopped breathing.

I waited. Knowing another breath could come, wanting it, yet dreading it, not wanting it to go on any longer. Waited.

And the next breath never came. And tears began to rolls down my cheeks.

I could not cry for my brother’s death, nor my father’s. Yet for this six ounce animal with it’s tiny blink of a lifespan, tears came easily.

Feeling another living creature die in your hand is unlike anything else on this earth.

My children know pets die. This wasn’t the first, nor the last. I warned them that it might be time. I’m so glad to have had Andie there with us, to help hold Olivia, to comfort Ruby. I had nothing to give my children for a few minutes as I wrapped the little body up and put it away to be dealt with later.

I’ve lost dogs, cats, frogs, many rats, many, many fish. But I can only think of one pet since I was an adult whose death touched me this way, a cat named Max. I guess you never really know who’s going to turn out to be incredibly special in life. It’s not always who you expect, when you expect it.

0 thoughts on “Flowers for Addison”

  1. Hey man, sorry for your loss. Hugs to the all of y’all.

    And you’re right: Nothing compares to the sensation of feeling the life leave something you love as it rests in your arms. When Raven, our first dog and the single best dog that ever lived, had to be put down just over 4 years ago we did the same thing. We brought our second dog, Scarlett, along so that she could say goodbye, and we cradled her in our arms and talked softly to her, stroking the curly fur on top of her head as the tech administered the overdose of anaesthesia, and we just felt her relax and … slip away.

    And now I’m crying at my goddamn desk. God, I still miss her so much.

    I’ve always likened the feelings I’ve had after to losing Raven (so young, too — she was only about 6. And a poodle, so she was supposed to make it to at least 12 or 13) to the shadow of what it must be like to lose a child. I hope and pray that that’s as close as I’ll ever come to knowing that sort of pain.

    Love to the family,


  2. Oh sweetheart, you’ve got me weeping.

    My love and brightest blessings to you and yours. I loved my pet rats Minx and Shadow in my youth and can never forget them.

    This entry touched me so deeply. Thank you.

  3. so sorry. Did I ever tell you about my little cat Bobby? Fierce little manx. Fuzzy, grey, and about 7.5 lbs of piss and vinegar.

    He got bitten by a dog or a coyote, multiple times, and his spine got infected. It’s amazing that he could get injured in that way and not get killed, but I know Bobby. He was vicious with his claws. I’m sure he turned on whatever bit him and clawed it across the face, and whatever it was decided he wasn’t worth it.

    We didn’t notice for a couple days that he was even hurt. By then it was too late, far too late. He was mostly an outdoor cat. We took him to the vet, and she tried. But there was no chance for him.

    I went in, along with the girls who were working for me at the time, to say goodbye. They couldn’t stay in the room, but I couldn’t leave. I held him while the vet put the drugs in his catheter. We both cried. She had been amazed and touched by him in those few hours she worked with him, as well. He was quite a cat.

    He was only 3.

    I can’t read anymore because my eyes have fogged up. Must be this cold.

  4. Most of us have memories of losing a pet…and it nearly killed me to have Olivia so upset…but what a lucky little rat Addie was…and what an amazing child Olivia is. I love you all. *kisses*

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