Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It Was Worse than Making Bears Use Charmin

A Rat Named Percy

We have this pet rat named Percy. It’s interesting how we came by this wonderful pet. When my daughter was in college, she had a couple of pet rats – both female. She named them Aamina and Lulu. Through her experience, my wife and I learned about the joys of rats. My wife says they are like kittens that never grow up – they remain cute, playful, and inquisitive.

Aamina, a hooded rat
Lulu, a Russian Blue Dumbo ear

Rats only live two to three years, and after my daughter’s rats had died, we thought about the possibility of acquiring another one. Soon the opportunity presented itself when we learned of a rat who needed a home due to his owner’s impending move. The rat’s name was Percy, and a fine rodent he turned out to be!

Social Time
Rats are social animals and require at least 20 minutes of hands-on interaction every day. Percy seemed more accustomed to men, so from the time we acquired him, it fell to me to be his “handler.” It was not a difficult daily task. From the moment Percy was delivered to us, I could see that he was fine animal with a healthy sense of being. When they live together, rats spend time grooming each other, so I began to take some time each day giving Percy some comforting strokes. We had learned from our daughter’s experience that when holding a rat in one’s lap, it helps to have a cloth bag that they can run into for security. She had had a denim bag that she kept treats in for her rats when they took refuge there. My wife bought a cloth bag specifically for rat handling (its original purpose had been for a sewing bag).

It didn’t take long for Percy to learn to relax in his bag when I took him out of his cage. I held the bag in my lap where I would pet Percy (always after I was finished walking the dogs at night). Sometimes Percy will eat a few treats, then poke his head out for some strokes from my fingers. Other times he settles down right away and enjoys being held and petted. Often he will close his eyes and drift off to sleep, sometimes even rolling over on his side. After a time of quiet cuddling, he will come out of his bag to look around. Usually he will sit up and groom himself for a while before roaming about on my lap and looking out at the room.

And Then the Potty Training

When my daughter had her rats, she had them trained to use a little litter box, which was a small ceramic dish with gravel in it. They didn’t use the litter box exclusively, but most of their droppings would end up there. When we first got Percy, I put the little ceramic litter dish in the cage, but he gave it no notice. My daughter advised that I should give it some time and see what part of the cage Percy preferred to “do his business” in, then try the litter pan again.

Months passed, and with my weekly cleaning of Percy’s cage, I noted that most of his droppings were in the right rear corner near the exercise wheel. A couple of weeks ago I decided to give the litter pan idea another try. When I cleaned the cage, I carefully placed the ceramic dish with special potty litter in the right rear corner that had become Percy’s favored doodle spot. Instead of taking advantage of my homemaking improvement, however, Percy was quite confused as to why there was this obstacle right where he was accustomed to doing bathroom business. He got busy pushing the aspen bedding that covered the floor of the cage this way and that. He made mounds of aspen shreds underneath the ladder to his bedroom; he fashioned drifts on the other side of his exercise wheel. He looked for new places to doodle since his usual spot was now occupied with a ceramic dish. His whole world was disrupted!

I told my daughter the next time she called home that Percy just wasn’t getting the litter pan concept. “Oh, just put some of his droppings in there, he’ll eventually start using it – it may take a year to get him used to it.”

“A year?” I thought. “That’s half the poor fellow’s life!” I told my wife I thought I would just go back to our usual rat cage arrangement and let the aspen bedding take care of things. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep up the litter pan project. “Why get into that power struggle?” my wife asked.

Picking Your Battles

Why indeed? Yes, my wife was right. After all, who knows what problems might arise over potty training issues? Some say that Hitler’s problem was that his mother potty trained him too early. That was it; I would no longer entertain any thoughts of trying to control where Percy went to the potty. That would be worse than making those bears use Charmin.

And what about those bears on TV? From time immemorial, bears would always squat in the woods. We even have a smart-alecky response in our language based upon that fact. Then along comes a toilet paper company making a decision that bears really need to use sophisticated paper products for their daily dumps. Well, those bears may look cute on television commercials, but why do we make such domesticated demands upon wild creatures? We should have known there would be consequences to such power issues. You may have heard about the recent phenomenon of bears breaking into people’s cars and shredding the interior. Well, there you go. We did not see such passive-aggressive destructive behavior from bears before Charmin’s humiliating attempt at making bears live with our notions of proper toileting habits.

So now Percy is once again living a harmonious life, true to his rat nature. He sleeps in the daytime, gets up for meals of lettuce, fruit, seeds and food pellets. He chews his sticks, roams around at night and runs on his exercise wheel. He enjoys cuddle time with his human friends in the evening, and he doodles where he chooses. Life is good.

Percy looks out upon the world
Percy awakes

Oh, and if you don't believe the part about bears trashing cars, take a look at this video. That's one bear I would not want to sit down with to watch a Charmin commercial.


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