Lela is the reason I have so many rats. Gira, Sheryl and I were shopping for rat food for my boy rats, Porthos and Spot, when I spotted a little hooded rat in one of the feeder tanks with an infected eye. A pet store employee gave me a grim reality check about what would probably happen to this poor rat if she needed veterinary care -- which, honestly, was probably still better than what faced her if she didn't need veterinary care. All the rat-owner politics about not buying rats from pet stores and all the logic of not keeping both male and female rats in the same house all went out the window, and Sachi's bleeding heart bought two little rats (because rats always need a friend to snuggle).
Funny story, really, and probably one you've heard before if you've been reading this journal for a while, but turns out we walked out with the wrong two rats and had to drive back for the poor little one with the infected eye. We named the other two rats Ezri and Jadzia, because hooded rats are white with a trail of black spots down their backs. Lela was named because Lela was one of Dax's hosts, and because we thought it was a little bit hilarious that Leela was also the name of the one-eyed pilot on Futurama.
Turns out, we didn't need to treat Lela's eye infection. It cleared up by itself overnight. Personally, I think she was faking it.
Lela liked faking injury. When she wanted to be removed from a situation -- usually a locked cage, or the iron shackles of having to nurse eleven babies at once -- Lela would lie on her back with her eyes closed and play dead until I opened her cage and fished her out to check for life. I'd get a perfunctory thank-you nuzzle, a haughty little look of rat superiority, and off she'd go to get into trouble. Usually, when dealing with the rats, if I'm saying "Stop! Dammit! No!" I'm talking to Lela.
She's been getting older for a little while now. I'm sorry for her that she didn't pass sooner, because the past few weeks she's been weak and disoriented, subdued, scared. It gave us the chance to be close in a different way, and it almost felt like we were getting reacquainted, like I was seeing again the timid, sickly baby rat who hammed her way into a rescue at PetCo, instead of the grown-up rat she became. After the original eye injury and until this case of Old Rat Syndrome, Lela wasn't much of a cuddler. It certainly wasn't that she was scared of human hands (Lela wasn't scared of anything except squeaking rat pups; she even chased the vaccuum), but she preferred to interact with us bipeds by matching wits rather than exchanging body heat. Sadly for me, evolutionarily speaking, Lela's wits stacked up pretty well against mine on a few notable occasions.
Lela died today, for real (I double- and triple-checked to make sure she was not just pulling a fast one). It's strange how animals seem to deflate when they're dead, all the air and life gone, and there's really no question (hope, but no question). Lela's pet shop sisters, Jadzia and Ezri, were keeping her company in her hospice cage, so I let them go back home to their usual cage, where the flock of girl!rats were a little adrift without their elders. I'm worried about Jadzia and Emony, who have thus far managed to work their way around their scary mutant tumors without too much trouble.
Lela was laid to rest in a cookie tin, lined with a favorite tea-towel and lavender and rosemary incense. There was a brief candlelight service, and Lela's daughters and nieces sniffed the cookie tin while I pretended they were saying goodbye. The sharpie inscription on the lid reads "You can't keep a good rat down."
I will miss my troublemaker, my brat, my little whiskered adversary. I can only hope she's found herself a spiritual plane with no locked cages, no hungry rat babies, and the occasional biped nemesis saying "No!" so she always has someone to outwit.