Rats I Have Known

These are some of the rats I’ve personally known and loved. For more about them as individuals, look next door. Photographs and chronology are over there; paintings are here.

Sweet Dreams #3

Sweet Dreams

Sometimes a picture comes by accident. This one started as Miranda and Winnie—in her Mini-Winnie days—curled up in their roll-a-nest. This left a visual gap in the other corner of the painting . . . so what could be more natural than to show what was on their little rattie minds as they slept?

What, you ask, is the significance of the #3? Well, sometimes I discover too late that I’ve used a title before. I have several paintings of cats curled up dreaming of fish, and birds, and rodents, and similar good stuff.

Cat Fight

rats ignoring a cat fight

This is a scene from life. From left to right in the group: Franny, Nelly, Zuzu, Harpo and Booboo are all riveted by the conversation happening on top of the cage. (Probably Smokey telling Dixie—five years younger, five pounds heavier—I am the alpha and don’t you forget it.) Miranda always knew what was most important; the cats’ squabbles were no concern of hers.

I didn’t date the picture. But it had to have been done between the end of July 2003—when I adopted Nelly—and the end of January 2004—when I bought Xena.

Chapter Two

the same picture, eight years later

For years and years the picture hung uneventfully in my living room, just over the rat cage. Then I started keeping a spare igloo up there—and the rats adopted a new penthouse, with bedding conveniently at hand.

I couldn’t do anything about the faded paint. But after a stint in the hospital, the picture has been restored—to a location twelve inches higher up on the wall. And I dutifully used it as inspiration for yet another picture.

9.2, 9.6, 9.5

rat on the parallel bars

Booboo surprised me one day. She took a flying leap from my lap back to the cage—but didn’t realize that it was glass, so she couldn’t jump in. She slipped and caught hold of the bottom rim of the tank, and made her way along the edge until she reached the adjoining shelf. Te shelf had a pile of fabric on it, and when Booboo tried to climb up the pile slipped. I thought she would land plump on the floor, but by some amazing acrobatics she scrambled her way up and to safety.

Booboo, officially Beatrice, turned into an unexpected dark horse. She was a big, squashy rex with a half-length tail—maybe congenital, maybe an accident in early infancy. I’d always expected that, like the similarly plump Winnie, she would not be with us long. But as it turned out, she held on well past the two-and-a-half-year mark. In later life she slept more than the younger girls, and refused to get upset about cat activity on or near the cage. She was also an assiduous stasher. At treat time, the other rats benefited from her trips up and down the ladder.

My Chip

Booboo and Zuzu fight over a tortilla chip

’Twas hers, ’tis mine, and has been chip to—

Well, maybe not thousands. Maybe not even three, if Booboo and Zuzu have anything to say about it. Nelly, Xena and Cinnamon keep their distance. This was painted between mid-June and mid-November 2004: Cinnamon was adopted in May and died in November, Franny died in June.

The Best Blanket

Booboo blanketing two other rats

The painting shows two rats enjoying Booboo’s squashy rexness. In real life there was only one. To quote from Nelly’s Page:

It’s hard to tell who was more comfort­able: Nelly enjoying a big squashy Rex blanket (offi­cially known as Beatrice), or Booboo enjoying a soft, warm pillow.

Hours later, Nelly died peacefully in her sleep.

Xena and the Egg

Xena reaching for the egg

This was painted when Xena was somewhat younger and sleeker than she ended up. For the rest of the story, see The Egg and I.

The picture is small because the original was done on smaller paper. It just seemed to work that way.

Peas in a Pod

four rats in a hammock

Another scene from life!

It started with a guinea pig found in a dumpster, as seen in No Place for a Guinea Pig. She was discovered by some friends of friends, who hadn’t been clear on whether it was a guinea pig or a hamster. It turned out to be a smallish female guinea pig, whom I named Charlotte. After about a week I realized I wasn’t really bonding with her. My guinea-pig-loving neighbor already had boys, so that was no go. So I called the local guinea pig rescue lady to pick her up.

While we were talking, I happened to look up—and saw all four of my rats, one head above the other, peering out of their sleeping bag in great curiosity.

P.S.: I later learned Charlotte was adopted the very next day, along with another girl.

Before and After

Harpo before and after neutering

Harpo was the first of my adopted boys. He was the last of a litter who were brought in to the Humane Society in the summer of 2003. (I named some of them: Patty, Laverne and Maxene—no relation to my own trio, who came later—and Groucho, Chico and Harpo.) One by one his brothers and sisters went their separate ways. At last only Harpo was left, an eight-month-old PEW. So what choice did I have?

My mischief was all girls, so for Harpo it was a choice between neutering and lifelong hermitude. While waiting for the neutering to “take” he lived by himself in a tank. The girls, free-ranging, could sniff at him but nothing more. Miranda and Winnie, the grownups, weren’t particularly interested. But Zuzu—then about seven months old—and Franny—aged just over a year—were all over the tank, fluttering their eyelashes and cooing “Helloooo big boy!” They even went onto accelerated heat cycles, every two days like clockwork.

And then Harpo was allowed to join the mischief . . . and nobody could remember why they’d been so wild to meet him.

The Venerable Miranda

Miranda framed as an icon

No explanation needed. There will never be another Miranda.

Rest in Peace

Winnie buried under the roots of a flower

Winnie was not the first rat I got, but she was the first one I lost. While big sister Miranda carried on boldly for more than three years, Winnie did not even make it to two. She had had her first tumor removed when she was less than a year old; toward the end she developed respiratory problems. At the time I didn’t have the heated tank that almost all my rats spontaneously gravitate to in their old age, and it had been an unusually chilly spring.


Colleen talks to Miranda

Sometimes people who stop by the art studio are dragooned into modeling for us. While Colleen was settling in, before she went into Serious Modeling Mode, she sat and talked with Miranda, who was also visiting the studio that day. So that became the day’s painting.

In justice to Colleen I must point out that I added about 20 years to her age. Call it artistic license.

Miranda did some posing in her own right, too: see Not Your Mother’s Rat, below.

The Girls of Summer

five rats, summer 2006

In order of size, the girls are: Xena, Leela, Nyssa (the one with the blaze on her forehead), Susanna and Thomasina. The two youngest girls were sisters, but Susanna grew and Thomasina didn’t. She was diabetic and died when she was only half a year old—three days before Xena, who had passed the two-and-a-half-year mark. This picture would have been painted in the spring or early summer of 2006.

Rocky’s Journey

rat looking down the length of a tree trunk

Passing the Torch

Miranda passes the rat-sized torch to Franny

Miranda was my very first rat, and the only one who lived to be over three years old. She survived Winnie, six months younger, by almost a year. Franny, eleven months younger than Miranda, had always been a shy girl, and terrified of the cats. But near the end of Miranda’s life she started being more assertive, as if knowing that she would soon have to be the Boss Rat.

Sadly, Franny only survived Miranda by about six weeks. She was frisky and lively, seemingly healthier than Miranda had been at the same age . . . and then she got liver cancer, and was gone within weeks after I first suspected she wasn’t feeling well.

Annabelle Brings Home the Bacon

Annabelle carries a strip of bacon

This is not a scene from life. But it could have been. Like most rats, Annabelle had no trouble figuring out how to carry something that was as big as she was—if the incentive was there. She would even have figured out how to get a full-length strip of bacon through a four-inch-wide doorway.

Miranda and Daddy

Miranda with Ray

Most of my pets can be traced back to my cat Dixie. She even gets credit for one of our homes: I learned about the apartment from a neighbor whom I’d originally met through Dixie.

But the pets. First there was the aquarium, because I thought she’d enjoy looking at fish. (She did.) Some time later, my then-roommate got the idea that Dixie would also enjoy looking at a small rodent zipping around in an exercise ball. I picked a rat because they’d got the best write-up of all the smaller animals. (Take that, rat-haters!)

Well, you know the rest. Miranda, like most rats, simply hated the exercise ball. Dixie quickly learned not to mess with her. And, over time, one rat grew into two, and three, and . . . .

Years later, I got a hamster so the exercise ball wouldn’t go to waste. Predictably, she adored it. But the cats, by now well trained to avoid resident rodents, paid her no attention whatsoever.

Not Your Mother’s Rat

Miranda in more-than-living color

Miranda (2001–2004) visited my art studio a few times. One time she collaborated with me on a painting: I dipped her feet in paint and then let her run across the paper. This time she was feeling pretty placid, so I held her up and painted her profile.

. . . And then I went berserk with the color palette. In real life, Miranda was your basic agouti hooded.

Power Grooming

a small rat grooming a big one

With rats as with cats, it’s the dominant one who does the grooming.