My gift of self is raped
My privacy is raked
And yet I find
And yet I find
Repeating in my head
If I can't be my own
I'd feel better dead
Zero was an agouti self and he was one of those very special rats.
When he reached two, his hind legs started to become weak, as is common in older rats. He still got around fine but was a little clumsy at getting in and out of his cage and often needed help. A few months after his second birthday, he began to breathe very heavily and became withdrawn and lethargic. I took him to the vet, fully expecting to be told that it was just old age and he was coming to the end of his life. The vet put Zero on a high dose of steroids which perked him up to no end. He was like a new rat again and was soon bouncing about with the others.
A short while after this, Zero lost the usage of his hind legs completely. This isn't a problem for any rat as long as the owner is willing to deal with the extra issues that come along with it. Zero could no longer live in the big multi level cage with the other boys since he couldn't manage ramps or jump onto platforms. I sectioned off the top part of the cage from the others and made that Zero's own little home. I put him on towels so he'd find it easier to pull himself around and also so he wouldn't get sore from laying on the wire floor. Due to his legs not working, he also couldn't groom himself properly which meant I had to bath him every day. Rats get along surprisingly well without the use of their hind legs and cope much better than a lot of animals. Zero didn't even seem to notice there was a problem.
He needed to have his food slightly changed since he could no longer lift himself up to eat from a bowl. I started to feed him off a flat surface (the plastic cover off a CD to be exact) and gave him more easy to hold foods, or things he could lick up, since he could no longer sit up to hold his food. I did regular physio sessions with Zero so he wouldn't suffer too much with muscle wastage. For a long time, Zero lived a happy and full life like this. Then one day as I was bathing him, I felt a lump in his stomach. I was being told left, right and center that it was probably not a good lump and to leave him to live out the rest of his days and not stress him with a vet visit. After some thought I decided that he deserved every chance since he'd been such a little fighter. The vet quickly recognised the lump as simply a very full bladder. When Zero lost usage to his hind legs, he also lost a little bit of strength in the muscles that controlled his bladder meaning that he could not fully empty it himself. This could lead to infection so I learned how to empty his bladder myself and it was soon a part of our daily routine. Zero never made a fuss throughout. Several people on online rat forums told me it was probably more humane to have him put down if he'd lost the ability to do something as natural as pee for himself. While I understood completely what they meant, and would probably have said the same thing if it had been someone else asking me my opinion on their rat, I just couldn't give up on him, especially since he still seemed so happy. Had he been a miserable rat who just lay in a cage all day sleeping then I might have considered it, but he still ate (and whats more, got excited about food) and drank and even played with toys!
A few days after I'd made the decision to give him the chance, he managed to go to the toilet all by himself.
One morning, I woke to find that Zero hadn't moved from the corner he'd gone to sleep in the night before. I picked him up and he didn't make any effort to right himself. When I put him down on his hot water bottle he just lay breathing heavily and had saliva around his mouth. He showed no interest in his yogurt drops and didn't lick my hand when I scratched behind his ears, which was something he'd done without fail since he was a kitten. This was when I knew something was wrong. That day he was taken to the vet and put to sleep peacefully.
Zero lived a long and happy life, which is more than a lot of rats get. He didn't want for anything and showed us time and time again how much he wanted to live. He died peacefully at a ripe old age of 32 months having never known pain. This should make his dying far less upsetting than in the case of other rats who die young, but Zero was very special and his death will always hurt. I've never known a rat to show as much of a will to live as he did and to put up with the things he put up with. Never once did he bite or squeak and thats what makes him one of the most special rats there will ever be.
Why Zero? At the time I bought Zero, I'd just returned from the UK 2001 Ozzfest and seen my first Slipknot show. I was really blown away by this band and really liked their DJ, Sid. Everyone in Slipknot is assigned a number as well as a name and Sid was number 0. So Zero was named after him. It's also a damn good Smashing Pumpkins song.