Archie the Rat

This website is dedicated to our beloved pet Archie. He is loved, he is missed.



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About Chronic and Fatal Illness in Pets: Make the most of the time you have!

So here's the part where I address the question "Is it worth it". If your pet has a chronic illness that will haunt him the rest of this life, or if he has a fatal illness and you know you can't save him no matter what, is it worth it?

Of course I don't have the answer. What I do have is a list of all the terrific experiences Archie had in the last few months of his life.

- Archie got to visit Columbia, Missouri for a weekend in September. Josh had an important event to attend and I didn't want Archie to miss his meds so I took him with us for the 2 hour drive and weekend visit. Rats usually have pretty boring lives and this was a bit of an adventure for him.

- We shared another Thanksgiving so Archie got to taste little bits of the Thanksgiving feast like baked sweet potatoes and corn.

- We got another Christmas together, so Archie got to see the house all decorated with sparkling, twinkling Christmas trees and holiday music and movies like It's A Wonderful Life and 2 musical versions of A Christmas Carol. He also got to play with wrapping paper and he got to chew on ribbons, but I didn't mean for that to happen, lol.

- Of course he got to taste little pieces of Christmas cookies: Oatmeal Rasin, Chocolate Chip (although his bit didn't have any chocolate), Peanut Butter. Also a few drops of eggnog which I think was his favourite.

- We went to Kansas City to visit my family. It was a 4 hour drive but Archie had his heat lamp to keep him extra warm and we stayed with my cousin whose family LOVES rats so he got to meet some new friends. I thought that trip would be hard on him, but when we came home I notices a light in his eyes that hadn't been there before. I suppose I'd been treating him too carefully, afraid of exerting him too much, and his life had become a bit boring. I made it a special point after that to ensure that each time his cage door was opened he had something good to enjoy, even if he had to have a nebulization too, so that he always had hope.

- The day before he died, I went out to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory with my best friend. I brought home a piece of plain cheesecake for Josh on the condition that he shared a bite with Archie. That bite made for 5 little desert portions for Archie which he thorougly enjoyed. By that time it was hard to find food he would eat, much less enjoy with enthusiasm. Also he got a few bites of my leftover vegi and goat cheese pizza. How many rats get goat cheese, really?

- On his last morning I prepared a scoop of Rocky Road ice cream on a waffle with extra chocolate sauce for breakfast. This is, of course, not typical but I was very sad to be losing him. I cut my waffle in half and Archie walked over to my plate and grabbed that half-waffle with chocolate ice cream and tried to drag it away. I was trying to cut off a more managable piece for him on the slightest hope he would eat it, but there he went with the whole thing. Of course it was too heavy and he was more than happy to trade for the little piece I'd cut off for him. He ate that little piece and another, then went to my plate to lick it clean. He'd never had chocolate before because they say it's bad for rats, but what harm could it do him at that point.

Archie was very fortunate in his health on that last day. In fact, he was doing so well I thought about canceling the appointment to have him put to sleep. But soon enough he was gasping and panicing again, and the nebulizations didn't help anymore, and the Oxygen didn't help any more, because it was his time.

The previous night he kept waking up in gasping panics. The first time he had been asleep on my chest, soundly asleep, and he suddenly woke up and couldn't breathe. There was no stress factor to set him off, after all he was sleeping calmly, then he was suddenly awake and gasping and panicing. Each time during the night his panicing and scratching would wake me up (after the first one I couldn't sleep anyway) and I would put him on Oxygen for a while and he would settle back down and go back to sleep. The third time this happened I took him out to the living room so he could sleep with me on the sofa. In the bed I would have rolled over on him, and on the sofa I still couldn't sleep, but I was so afraid he would have one of these attacks and I would sleep through it and he would die in pain and alone.

For days before this he had been eating less, even refusing treats, and breathing worse and having those gasping attacks every so often. I knew his time was running short. These were the signs I'd been told to watch for. I'd taken him to the vet again and they said there was nothing more I could do, I was already doing everything possible.

So I cried a lot and I did everything I could to spoil him with everything he could possibly want and I watched and waited. I didn't want him to suffocate to death, I didn't want to wait until he was in constant pain, on constant Oxygen, just to be sure I was doing the right thing. I had worked very hard to make sure he had a good life experience and I didn't want it to come to a bad ending. The end was coming, and I didn't want him to die in pain, afraid, alone. What if I didn't wake up the next time? What if I was taking a shower, or out to the grocery store? So I made the appointment and I set the day aside to spend it with him, and for much of the day he felt well, which made me doubt my decision, but then he got worse again and I knew he had a day or two at most. His last day was good, and really what more could I ask than that?



The answer?

In the end I knew that whatever decision I made I would regret. I made my choice for all the right reasons and for all the wrong reasons. If I had chosen differently, he could still be alive today. Likely, in fact, since he died yesterday. But I didn't want him to suffer, and I didn't want him to experience a horrible death, so I made the best judgement call I could.

I'm not trying to say what is right and wrong here. Is it right to spend hundreds of dollars and hours of time each day on a hopeless case for a rat? For me it was. But the most important thing to note here is that I used that time well. I made sure Archie had a lot of good experiences, a lot of time out to visit, a lot of good treats to eat. He had a heat lamp to keep him warm, he had a hammock made from an old pant leg which he loved. Actually there were several hammocks and I traded them out and cleaned them regularly, and it was a hassle but he really enjoyed them. He was in his hammock all the time, unless he was out visiting with us. He loved sleeping on my chest or sitting on my shoulder. In the end, even when he didn't care all that much about food, he still wanted to be with us.

I miss Archie so much. Today is much worse than yesterday. I thought the worst would be over once he had been put to rest and I didn't have to live in fear for him any more, or live in doubt as to what I should do. I was wrong to think that, today is much worse, but I still know I did the best thing. It's just really hard to live with the decision. And it's really hard to live without my little Archie.

The moral of the story is: if you're faced with the difficult situation of having a pet with a fatal illness, just make sure that you make the rest of their lives as good as possible, whatever time they have.



It has now been a week since Archie left us. I won't change what I have written since it was written from the heart, but I will tell you that it got easier. He passed away on Thursday, January 14, 2010. By Saturday evening I was mostly done with tears. By Monday morning I was back to my normal life. I can feel an almost physical void, an empty space in my heart where Archie used to live. I'd love to go out and get another little rat simply to fill the void, but that is Archie's place and no other soul can fill it. The heart has an infinite capacaty to love, so I will fill my hours, my days, my life with many loved ones and still have room in my heart for Archie.

Many people would say "he's just an animal and not worth so much effort". In my life I have known many people, I've had to bear the burden of untrue friends, I've had great friends and grown apart, I've lost years with loved ones because of disputes and disagreements. People are not always that great, they are not always easy to be around, and they can't always give you the unconditional love you need when you need it. Archie was always glad to see me, he wanted to be near me, and not just for what I could give him. Archie was just as unique and irreplaceable as any other soul. There will never be another Archie, and he was worth every minute.