Death at the Co-op

August 26, 2006    By: Kristen J @ 2:19 pm   Category: Life

A couple of years ago my little daughter came home from school with a very sad look on her face. When I asked her what was wrong she said in a tiny and quivering voice, “We talked about pets in school today and when it was my turn I had to tell everyone I didn’t have one.”

Well dang, I thought to myself. What kind of crappy mother was I? My little sweethearts deserved a pet. I vowed that I would be crappy no longer! I got to thinking and decided that maybe our family could handle a hamster or something a long that line.

The very next Saturday I loaded the young’ns into the car and we headed down to the local Petco. After wandering around the rodent section for a few minutes I managed to snag a Petco lady and plead for her advice. Here’s the skinny on what she told me: 1. Mice stink, 2. Gerbils are fast and are hell bent on escaping, 3. Hamsters get mean, 4. Guinea Pigs are loud and stinky. If she were to pick a rodent for a pet it would be a rat. According to her rats are sociable, not stinky, and smart. Another positive, their life expectancy is only about 2 years.

Twenty minutes later I loaded my kids, a fancy new cage, and 3 baby rats into the car. When we got back home the kids ran to Geoff with shouts of glee and happiness. He put on a good show for them but gave me a look that said, “Are you mad, woman?”

Let me introduce you to the rat members of our family: First, there was Nutmeg (Meg for short) an auburn colored rat. She was a girl but she belonged to my little son and he thought she was a boy so that’s what she was at our house. She didn’t last very long there. After about 4 months of living with us she moved on to the next life. Maybe it was the enthusiastic hugs from my son, or maybe she couldn’t live this life as a male. Whatever it was she didn’t stay with us for long.

Second was Mirra, just your typical brown rat. She knew how to blend in and just do her own thing. She took being mauled by the children the best and she was the rat most often put on show for visiting friends and family. She lasted for a little over a year. I think she ate herself to death. She was always the first rat at the trough, immediately picking out all the good stuff. She was like that person who always goes through the trail mix and picks out all of the M&Ms. I also suspect this was the cause of her death because food consumption went way down after she died.

Third was Lucy, a blond rat. She was the most hyper and bossy of the rats. If the other two got on her nerves she was sure to let them know with a snip or a tackle. She also got the most exercise which might explain her longevity. Anytime the exercise wheel began squeaking in the night it was always Lucy running as if Satan himself were hot on her heels.

Towards the end of Lucy’s life I called her Methuselah because she was living well beyond the expected 2 years. Her death was an event I anticipated. You see, my kids lost interest in the rats about 2 months after their arrival at which point they became my rats. I fed them, cleaned their cage, held, and talked with them. I didn’t mind the rats, I just felt guilty that they were sitting in a cage in our playroom and not running in some field, garage, or subway living the high life.

Lucy died last night. I didn’t walk into the playroom to find her stiff body in the bottom of the cage. No, that wouldn’t be Lucy’s style. She chose to die in the middle of our monthly babysitting co-op, surrounded by a bunch of little kids.

Early in the middle of the babysitting evening a little girl came up to me , yanked on my shirt, and said, “Kristen I think your rat is dead.”

“What?” I asked.

“I think your rat is dead,” she replied.

I quickly walked to the playroom moving little ones out of the way as I approached the cage. Peering in I noticed that Lucy was unmoving, lying on her side, and her eyes were closed. I tapped on the cage to see if she would jump up and run around the cage like she usually did (she had gotten a little slower over the past few months). She didn’t move or crack an eyelid. It looked like she had indeed died.

I carried the cage out to the back patio where Geoff could take care of her since he is the undertaker in our family. As I set the cage down one of the little boys said, “I don’t think she’s dead. I saw her stomach moving.”

I patted him on the head, trying to comfort him. “No, I think she’s dead,” I told him.

He squatted next to the cage, pointed, and shouted, “No! Her stomach’s moving!” Sure enough, her little stomach was quickly moving in and out, in and out.

“Oh my gosh, you’re right!” We all huddled around the cage to watch. Was she dying, or sick? None of us knew but I think we all held a small hope that she would shake off her illness and jump on the exercise wheel once more.

“Come on you guys. Let’s let Lucy have some peace,” I commanded. No one moved, we all just watched in horrified fascination, including myself. We were all rooted to the spot as Lucy danced with death. The spell cast over us was only broken when Geoff grabbed the handle on the cage, lifted the cage over our heads and said, “Geez you guys. It’s time to let the rat die in peace.” He carried the cage to the back of the house where Lucy could do her last pirouette in darkness and silence.

As each parent came to pick up their children I explained our “little episode” to them knowing that if their families were anything like mine the death of the Lucy would be a hot topic for a few days to come. No one seemed too shocked or upset by my story. They seemed to take it all in stride.

I part of me kind of misses Lucy, but another, bigger, part of me is glad I don’t have to clean out the rat cage anymore.

Next time one of my kids needs to talk about a pet in a class I’m going to tell them to talk about their younger siblings.

[Associated song: UB40 – Rat In The Kitchen]


  1. Pets have a way of overstaying their welcome. To paraphrase: pets go on long after the thrill of pets livin’ is gone.

    My wife bought some betta fish (George and Pinky) 18 months ago and they’re still going strong. This after being spilled in my car as I was transporting them to get fish sat and after our then 3 y.o. son climbed up on a chair in the middle of the night and took them down, dumped the whole container of fish food into their tank, and removed them with the net and dropped them on the floor. When we discovered what had happened both fish were on the floor (one of them right next to a red spot on the carpet that made it look like its guts had been spilt) and my wife was kind of relieved that they had finally kicked the bucket, but she had to attempt a rescue, and whatta ya know, once they hit the water they were just fine (yipee). I don’t know how long those fish were out of water. It was definitely at least a few minutes.

    I’m thinking I’m going to have to work up a contract stipulating the kids’ responsiblilities and consequences that they’ll have to agree to before I get the pets that I’m sure we’ll get one day. I myself don’t want pets and I definitely don’t want to take responsibility for the pets I don’t even want. It might go something like this: “Should these duties not be met, pet X will be run through a meat grinder and fed to the neighbor’s cat and it’s ghost will haunt you all the days of your life.”

    Comment by Tom — August 26, 2006 @ 3:02 pm

  2. Ha! I like that clause. I can’t believe your fish have lasted that long. Maybe they are Highlander fish. Only the removal of their heads will cause them to move on.

    My friend has a baby guinea pig she wants to give me. My husband says over his dead body. The girls of course want it. My mom says I’ll regret it…

    Comment by Kristen J — August 26, 2006 @ 3:18 pm

  3. We had yard rabbits. Watching them frolic was a joy, though they don’t live long enough.

    That’s my feeling about pets in general, they don’t live long enough.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — August 26, 2006 @ 3:40 pm

  4. This is a nice follow-up post to the previous “Pet Sematary.”

    Comment by Jacob — August 26, 2006 @ 3:43 pm

  5. For the longest time we tried to keep the pets small. Fish were the first. Then on to hamsters. Their longevity was overstated, by miles! The fish died way earlier than anyone cold imagine. The hamsters – two of them – became one late one evening – a tale that could be told in darkness with a flashlight. We found pieces of one in the cage, the other with a huge smile of satisfaction. Too creepy for us.

    So we settled upon cats. Two at a time. Brothers. Only boy cats allowed. Girls reproduce. Eeeek. I did not want to be the sad little lady at the grocery store trying to convince you how adorable this kitten would look at your home…

    After years and years of cats, we have many stories to tell. They have enriched our lives far more than we could have ever expected. We are down to one. He is going to live through the millennium. All the others have gone on to the place prepared for them, and await our arrival. I certainly hope Joseph Smith was correct when he said our pets would speak for us or against us in our judgement. If true, I’m going to be all right. Everyone told me, our pets, had already been resurrected and were living in the celestial kingdom. Our home.

    Kristen the siblings will last a bit. But I see a puppy on the horizon.

    Comment by chronicler — August 26, 2006 @ 4:03 pm

  6. Jacob-You are so right. I didn’t even think about it until you mentioned it. Do you think I should be worried about Geoff coming to bed in the middle of the night with mud up to his knees and a maniacal look on his face?

    Stephen-as a child I remember my pets not living nearly long enough. Maybe someday I’ll feel that way again.

    Chronicler-The stories I could tell about my attempts to bring a dog into the house. They are posts in and of themselves. Oh how I would love to have a cat! Geoff starts sneezing and sniffling at the mere mention of a cat. It would be so much easier if that weren’t the case.

    Comment by Kristen J — August 26, 2006 @ 4:31 pm

  7. I’m so sad to hear about Lucy. But it is perfect timing for your new pet guinea pig Allie. I’ll bring her over tonight!! You’ll love her!! And so will Geoff!

    Comment by Court — August 26, 2006 @ 6:07 pm

  8. Yes! I can’t wait!

    Comment by Kristen J — August 26, 2006 @ 6:15 pm

  9. I remember when Ian had rats. They were the grossest things in the world to me. The two of them (boy and girl) would have a litter and as soon as the babies died they would eat the dead kids. I am glad Ian had a separate room then me at the time.

    Comment by Spencer J — August 26, 2006 @ 8:19 pm

  10. I remember when he had those rats. I hated them at the time and I remember thinking to myself that I would never have a pet rat. I thought about that vow a lot on my drive home from the pet store with my new baby rats. Yuck!

    Comment by Kristen J — August 26, 2006 @ 11:28 pm

  11. We had rats too. Actually we still do–a new batch. The first three got a lot more attention from everybody than this current bunch. My youngest son Elijah would say that Rickie (his rat, short for Ricochet) was the only person in the whole world who understood him. It was tough when Rickie died.

    We’re getting a cat soon.

    Comment by Susan M — August 27, 2006 @ 12:00 pm

  12. I think rats make great pets. My last pet rat was an accidental pet. He was bought as snake food for my sister’s ball python, Amadeus, (in my family, we had all kinds of critters; the goose and the rooster hated me, and the feeling was mutual (there’s a great tale of me running screaming across the back yard after feeding the horses, the hateful rooster after me), but otherwise I liked the pets), but it was too close to skin shedding time and he didn’t eat the rat. My sister pulled the rat out of the snake cage after a bit over a day and stuck her in a separate cage for a post-shedding meal. Unfortunately, my sister grew attached to the rat, so a new rat was purchased for the snake’s supper. Felicity, as the rat was named, become mine a few months later when my sister left for her mission.

    I wouldn’t mind getting another pet rat. Unfortunately, my two cats might like the rat even more than I would.

    Comment by Tanya Spackman — August 28, 2006 @ 10:37 am

  13. I think I would like a pet rat, but again, it’s the cage thing that gets me. I don’t want to clean the dang thing. I do love my dog though. And he’s so convienent when the kids need someone to blame.

    Comment by fMhLisa — August 28, 2006 @ 2:41 pm

  14. It’s the cage-thing that drove me crazy. If I could find an already potty trained, well behaved pooch I think that would be great.
    We’ve tried to adopt 2 dogs but they were horribly behaved.

    Comment by Kristen J — August 28, 2006 @ 3:09 pm