Ranched-raised in Cle Elum, I wasn’t your typical “mouse/rat-averse” young’un. Creatures great and small thrilled me to my toes.
So I’m sure Mom and Dad weren’t surprised when I walked in from the barn to show them my newest prize: a very young mouse I dubbed Skippy because I kept him in a Skippy jar (at first) with a mound of cotton balls to make sure he stayed plenty warm living by himself. (His litter mates had successfully evaded my attempts to catch them.)
Skippy was adorable. He quickly tamed and would sit in my hand to eat peanut-butter toast and other delectable goodies. After he’d eaten his fill, he’d bathe his face and whiskers meticulously and then take sniffing strolls up my arms, across my chest and into my lap for as long as a particular trek like that intrigued him, then he’d yawn and stretch (cuter’n heck!) and let me know he was ready to go back into his cotton-lined enclosure for a nap. His home evolved as the weeks passed from Skippy jar to ten gallon glass terrarium to larger, loftier bird cage as he grew into a slightly larger version of his wee self and I knew he couldn’t get out through the bars anymore.
Inside his home, I created a mouse Taj Mahal using boxes, small wooden ladders, branches, and anything else I could find, adapt, or buy to make sure Skippy was one happy little dude.
Still, I felt a little guilty for having kidnapped him, so one time I let him go not far from the house. The next day he was back (a mouse that scoots in under a door frame and wanders right up to you is a pet mouse!) probably wondering what the heck he’d done to cause his exile! So I happily returned him to his domicile and no longer felt bad for keeping him.
Alas (and this is sad to all but rodent-averse folks), field and barn mice don’t live long. While laboratory-bred and indoor-reared mice from pet stores can live four years and even longer in rare instances (sadly, a lot of them are bought to feed reptiles, so those don’t live as long as Skippy did) their wild cousins don’t fare as well. Skippy lived to be a little over two years old. When he died, he got full funeral flourishes and a little shrine of stones to mark his final resting place.
After Skippy, I had gerbils, hamsters, rats and other rodents as pets throughout the years. But it was Skippy and a hooded rat named Fink whose memories remain strongest.
I got Fink when we were living in Brea, CA. Dad was a general contractor for a bunch of restaurant chains and he’d rented a large warehouse in Diamond Bar to store a lot of his equipment. Because we were renting an apartment in Brea that didn’t accept pets, and because we were at the warehouse (his working “office”) during most waking hours, I kept my Siamese cat, Turkey (Charisma) and my Labrador pup (Snazzy II) there.
I raised Fink with Turkey and Snazzy, so they were pals. Fink had the run of the place every bit as much as Turkey and Snazzy did whenever I was there. I wish there were video cameras in those days; I could have made a million dollars videotaping and selling the antics of Fink and Turkey.
Turkey the cat and Fink the Rat would take turns chasing each other. It was a laugh riot to see a rat chasing a cat! Agile as all get out, there was nowhere Turkey could go, high or low, that Fink couldn’t follow, so they cavorted around that huge area like whirlwinds when they got into play mode. They’d ricochet from pillar to post, from chairs to desks to stacked pallets to boxes above and beyond. The subcontractors and others who came there would watch a while, chuckling and guffawing. “Never, in a million years, would I ever be able to believe this if I wasn’t seeing it with my own eyes,” one guy said, shaking his head. “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen—a rat chasing a cat.”
Rats are very smart—as smart and as personable as dogs. They learn behaviors easily and are fastidious. If you can get past the appearance of their bare tails, they’re among the most charming of pets. They don’t live as long as their owners would like them to—two to three years—so it’s heartbreaking every few years to lose the ones you raise and adore, but they sure do leave lasting memories that live as long as you do—and beyond, if you’re a writer!