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Easing Life For My Old ASF Rat

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My poor old Earnie is on the downhill slope in her life.

She’s an ASF rat whom I’ve had as a companion to my mice for almost two years now. In ASFrat years, it turns out, that’s most of a lifetime. I saw something sad tonight that reminded me of my ratty-girl’s mortality, so I hope you don’t mind if I share a bittersweet observation here. If you don’t want potentially sad vibes, or a longish read, quit reading now.

Earnie and the kong
Earnie and the Kong
Earnie, getting her chew on. Every day, need it or not – a kong attack. She’s a very Chewy Girl.

Earnie is my ASF rat. I got her as a companion ‘mouse’ to a boy mouse I had a while back.*  Earnie is short for Earnestine, which I named her because she just radiated “Sincere!” “Earnest!” Helpful, even.

She has been a great companion and earnest ‘mother hen’ to all my meeple [mouse-people] who have lived with her. Full grown she is about 4 x the size of a mouse, so it is very funny to see them all together: the squeakers cluster up under her chest and sides like chicks to a mother hen, and I have seen her actually splay herself out over them as if she were lying atop them – except that Earnie is very pear shaped (lol!), so when she lies “atop” someone there is really very little weight there. Her heft is in her butt, legs and belly; her chest is an afterthought, and a nurturing space. It’s very sweet to see her snuggle and flop atop the little ones (the meeple) whom she is grooming or giving love to. Just as soon as one realizes she’s not really squishing them, that is. (She’s a very large Plush Toy…)

So….Turns out that ASF rats live 2-3 yrs in captivity. Earnie was born around Sept 2010. I got her in Dec 2010. So, yeah, she’s coming right up on 2 years. And as much as I wish she would go for 3 years or longer, in fact she has been going blind for the last 6 months. The tinge of blue in her eyes started back then, and now her brilliant Big Black Eyes (and they are big, on an ASF rat) are now just all cloudy blue.

So that was my first sign that she was aging more quickly than expected. But OK, so blind ratty girl could still get around with sense of smell, yes?

But, alas, then her limbs have started to fail her.

Tonight I watched her attempt to get up to her much-loved “upstairs” level of the tank (I have a “condo” attachment, a second-floor that is a wire cage with platforms and such in it. Earnie and the other meeple love it there and spend half their night in the upstairs space every day.)

Earnie snacking, July 2012

And then I heard that “scrabble- scrabble – tumble” sound I have come to dread.

Earnie tries to get up the ladder to upstairs and she is now lacking the oomph in her legs to drive her upwards enough, or even to maintain her grip. She tries; she fails; she falls back into the Heap O Aspen Shavings I have piled and packed around the ladder base so she can have a soft landing, if it comes to that.

Well, yeah. Now it has come to that.

Tonight I saw her try to negotiate the ladder upstairs and fail miserably. Three times in a row. Scramble-drop. Scramble-drop.Scramble-struggle-flounder-drop.
Plop to ground (built up with aspen shavings – soft landing, but so not what you want a 60- or 70-some-year-old lady to do!!!)
Go to bedroom and hide. 😐

She eventually got upstairs because I raised the nest box up (on a bed of dried bread chunks and aspen shavings – hey, working with what’s at hand, ya know?), thus her stepping-off point was closer to the ladder and had a different (easier) angle of attack. She got up, finally, but still has trouble negotiating such simple things as “step out onto the platform from the ladder.” Or for that matter, “find your way to the food that’s upstairs.”

Awww, Earnie….. :(

Til now, she’s been getting up and down to the condo via ladders that the smaller girls use (see photo above). But the footing is precarious for an Old Lady without quite-good control of her limbs. Yes, I could seniorize this and turn it all into one level in the tank, period. But you know what? I’ve tried that twice, now, and Earnie goes BONKERS. She stands on top of her nest box and dances around, stretching for the sky for where her ladder is supposed to be. (Which is really pitiful and sadly funny, because she has teeny-tiny T-Rex style hands in comparison to her body!)   And she does this for a half-hour at a stretch, and more. She wants UP. She wants UPSTAIRS. NOW. In fact, she wants to be here, in her Fleece Tube, where she can snooze and scent The World and be at peace.

Earnie, snoozin'

Earnie in her Happy Place, snoozin’ on the Back Porch


No doubt about it. And when ladder fails to manifest, she goes to ground in her nest box and stays there discombobulated for hours.


Poor Earnie.

I don’t have it in my heart to deny her the Upstairs (she’s so Earnest about attaining it!). But I certainly don’t want to see her take another tumble off her ladder! So – here’s my solution.

My handyman-roommate is going to build (to my specs) a RAMP so that Earnie can walk comfortably between the levels on a flat, solid surface that is wide, and has guardrails and a flat platform at the top so she doesn’t have to struggle to move from ladder to condo-floor.

I’m hoping that will fix the immediate problem, and allow my too-swiftly aging old lady to have the freedom of the house, and allow her to snooze on the porch to her heart’s content.

Sweet Old Earnestine, who has always been the perfect Auntie to all the girls (and boys). Wish us good luck in getting this ramp contraption built quickly! I don’t want to see any more tumbles from my old girl. : And I want her to have the use of the upstairs (if feasible) until the very day she goes to take The Big Sleep.

Love you, Earnestine….


*African Soft Furred rats, also called Natal rats, are also known as multimammate mice (for their multiple teats). These creatures have an (unfortunate) presence in the feeder industry as food for snakes, but they are the missing link between rats and mice, with traits of both species, and when kept as pets they are quite exceptional. They can be nippish and territorial (handle them young and often to avoid this!) but if raised with mice, they fit right in with them as their family (unlike rats, who will kill mice outright).

In Earnie’s case she’s lived all her life with meeple – even when she was a weanling, she had a merson in her family group. There has never been a behavioral risk in her case of spending time with mice. Some ASF rats can be vicious and a hazard to all around them, but that was not the case here. In case it needs saying, my general caution would be: know your ASF rat before you introduce meeple to them. At their worst they are fangish and intractable; at their best they are loving plush toys. How you treat them has a great deal to do with that outcome, as well as their breeding and bloodline. American ASF rats tend to be more nippish and less handleable than those in Europe, but this can be overcome with patient and consistent interaction.


The Poldi Video
I thought this was a lovely tribute to an ASF rat, and shows something of the nature and lovingness towards meeple that I see in Earnie. I am unacquainted with Poldi or his owner who made this video, but I was touched by it, and so I share it here.

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Author Deborah Teramis Christian

Teramis wrote her first book at age 9, but like all good literary lizards has taken her time charging upon the market. Finally in a situation where she can write full time, she is becoming the Dragon, Unleashed, or a close facsimile thereof. Roar, said the saur.

Teramis On the Web

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This military science fiction anthology contains "Live Fire," Christian's Tiptree Award-nominated short story set in the Sa'adani Empire, the setting of her science fiction novels. Now available at Amazon in print and Kindle editions.