Lotte was a black hooded.
Lotte was one of four rats given to me by Easton college, an animal care and agricultural college, at the end of the year.
But my fight to get Lotte from them had been going on a lot longer.
Easton's animal care programme is fairly archaic, like a lot of animal care colleges, and does a lot of things by the book, without realising the book is now very outdated. The rats were fed on a bland, pellet type food of a brand I've never even heard of, and their food was precisely weighed out daily, and once it was gone, it was gone. The amount of food these rats were given was pitiful, in my opinion, and backed up by the fact that all their rats were under-sized and skinny. The college viewed their animals as learning aids, not pets, and I even had one tutor admit to me that they didn't have great lives.
I first noticed that one of the rats in their animal care block had a tumour some 6 weeks or so before Lotte eventually became mine. As I only went to the college one day a week, and didn't always get to see the rats, Im not sure how long the lump had been there before I spotted it. But as soon as I did, I asked my 'animal care' tutor if she was aware of it, and if so, if she had considered operating on it? It was very loosely attached, and the first course of action with any mammary lump on a rat is to look into surgery. I was told that no, they would not be operating on the rat. The reason? They didn't want to pay for it.
This infuriated me, not least because the tutor telling me this was not someone I particularly agreed with the animal care techniques of in the first place, but because the course was supposed to be teaching people to care for animals. And yet it seemed they were sending out the message that if something is expensive, just let your animal die.
I instantly offered to pay for her surgery, if they would let me take her on as a rescue. I was refused, with my tutor telling me that other students had already offered to re-home her when she retired, so she couldn't just give her to me. Her entire attitude was one of complete disinterest in the welfare of this animal.
When I got back home, I asked my head tutor what I should do about the situation, as I desperately wanted to help this rat but for some reason, Easton were not allowing me to do so. I didn't understand their reasoning, as I had offered to pay for the op, out of my own pocket, and didn't understand what objections they could possibly have to letting me try and save her life. Mammary tumours do not kill a rat peacefully. They either get so large the rat cannot move, or they become infected from dragging on the ground, or even get so large they lose blood supply to them and become necrotic.
My head tutor gave me the name of a higher-up at Easton and told me to call him, as he was head of the animal care block and it was ultimately his decision. I called him up, and eventually got to speak to him. He told me he fully sympathised with me and if it were up to him, he'd let me take her, but he in turn had yet another person he had to clear it with first.
When I went back to the college the following friday, he told me he had been denied permission to let me take the rat, but still couldn't give me a good reason, other than the college just didn't want the rat to leave the premises, though he did re-state that were it his own choice, he would have said yes.
I wasn't done with this. I refused to allow them to leave that rat to die without giving me a valid reason. I toyed with getting the RSPCA involved, but I eventually went to the head of the course, who was my vet nurse tutor and a past rat owner herself, so I thought if anyone would be sympathetic, she would.
In conflict to the stories I got from every other member of staff, she assured me that the rat had seen a vet, and it definitely wasn't money that was the issue, but that she'd had several students come to her to express concerns who had been told the exact same thing, and had also offered to pay for her op.
I was told that the vet who saw Lotte had thought she was too old to undergo a surgery, as she was almost three, and that in all likelihood, it had spread to her lungs so there was point in operating.
Talking to her put my mind at rest, as at least the animal had been seen by a vet and it wasn't just down to money as to why they'd opted not to operate.
For a few more weeks, I tried to forget about it. But then one day, a friend from Easton told me there was a rumour that they wanted to rehome all their rats so they could get new ones in for the new year. I instantly left my details with the head of the animal care block,
This would include the girl with the lump, her cage mate, and possibly a lone girl who lived in the other room. I was overjoyed when he called me a few days later to say I could have the rats, including the lone girl, and including one lone male (The Stig) I went to collect them a few days later.
One of the first things I did with Lotte was book her in to see my vet. I booked her in before I even went to collect her. Although I didn't doubt she had seen a vet at Easton, my vet is very good with rats and I trusted his opinion more.
My vet said the lump on Lotte felt as if it could be very easily removed, but then when he felt in her belly, he discovered a big, hard mass. Lotte had cancer which was possibly attached to either her bladder or bowel (my vet couldn't be sure) but it meant that there was no sense in operating on her external mass, as it would be the internal one that would eventually kill her, and this was obviously inoperable.
I felt bad for Lotte, but was determined to give her the best life from now on. She was very bony when I got her, despite the fact that I'd told the staff to feed her more as the tumour would take away her energy and she would need to eat more, they hadn't followed this advice. So the first thing I did was give her a big bowl of my home-made rat mix, which includes dried pasta, dog kibble, cereals and rice cakes. Lotte seemed to just eat solidly for the first few days of being here! She was a lovely, sweet natured, gentle little rat and despite her medical issues, she was the alpha of the three!
I soon introduced Lotte and her two cage mates to my group of girls, and Grout. They all got on fine from the word go.
Over time, the mass in Lotte's stomach became larger, to the point where you couldn't miss it now, whereas before it had been something you'd only notice if you felt around for it. Presumably because she was now eating properly, it was speeding up the growth of the mass. But I always maintained that I would prefer her to live a few weeks with good food, than starve her in the hopes of getting a few extra weeks out of her.
One week, Lotte seemed to slow down right before my eyes. She became less perky, would sleep more, and her coat was dull and fluffed up. Though she still ate well and tried to go about her normal life, it was obvious she was beginning to feel the effects of her illness. One day, I decided to take her to be put to sleep. Although she still ate, she was clearly only running on survival mode, and not having a great quality of life. If there was one thing I regretted about Bess, a previous rat I'd had with an internal tumour, it was waiting until she stopped eating before I had her put to sleep. I didn't want Lotte to have to experience getting to that point, which would only have been a matter of days, so I feel I spared her that.
Lotte was a lovely, sweet, peaceful girl who got on with everyone. I knew she was on borrowed time from the day I got her, and I only hope she enjoyed her last few weeks with good food, proper handling and lots of love.
Why Lotte? I gave her this name even before I knew she would ever be mine. I got it from the Phantom of the Opera, as I used to sing the song 'little lotte' at her when she was at Easton.