Life with rodents… and cats…

I have a habit of putting my pets first. I chose to have them (mostly, the direct rescues who don’t go on to find new homes are a grey area). They are voiceless dependents; relying on me for their most basic of welfare needs. They are my responsibility; the minimum is never enough for me.

I have a habit of putting my pets first. And myself? Well that’s another matter entirely. By default of them being first, I am not.

I have a habit of putting my pets first. I am happy with this. A choice freely made.

Unfortunately, conscious decision as that may be, life doesn’t always turn out the way you’ve planned, and re-evaluation of priorities is required. Even those which feel an intrinsic part of oneself.

For the past 16 months and counting my new GP and I have been pushing to get 13 years of chronic pain and fatigue formally diagnosed and properly managed. This time period started with a fateful 999 call which cumulated in an incompetent consultant kicking me and my morphine-level pain out of A+E with two paracetamol. Since then I’ve got to know both my local and not-so-local hospital, met some less misogynistic paramedics, been prescribed more drugs than I can even remember off the top of my head, and been very very thankful that I live less than 5 minutes slow walk from my GP surgery.

And in the midst of all this? A cat. Or more specifically, a Catcat.

In early spring 2013 I started volunteering with my local Blue Cross rescue centre. I was primarily fostering, but also taking some photos to help other individuals staying at the centre to look cuter for home-seeking. At some point in the process of taking natural behaviour cat photos I discovered – not entirely unsurprisingly – that I was drawn towards the more behaviourally complex cases. And so, on the 5th of November, my first more complex foster cat, Flicka, arrived home with me. She had recently been transferred up from another centre and really needed a break from the cattery environment. Her past was known to be complex and that she’d already been returned once, but the detailed documents hadn’t arrived at this point. She settled in wonderfully. Slowly at first, but then very quickly discovering her true calling in life as a furry purring hot water bottle.

Mid-January was the anniversary of her being in rescue for a solid year. A national appeal went out. It failed. No one was interested in a boring-coloured adult cat with a torn ear and a fragmented past. I fell in love. Despite her case history painting a really bad picture, she was such an easy cat to live with; communication felt so intuitive. Eventually a local home applied for her. Several friends told me to keep her, but no, I was resolute in my more responsible (in terms of money, time, and general life stuff) decision to foster. Happily(ish) waved her off, got a new boring-coloured complicated foster cat.

Three months later, in an email about another cat, a paragraph which started off like this

Sadly Flicka is coming back, serial sprayer, can’t cope with the external environment.  I wasn’t sure whether or not to tell you, but then I would rather be honest with you.

At which point I cried for 48hrs straight and then replied saying I’d like to adopt her. The thing is, although never displayed while with me, she had spraying history. And a cat with that sort of baggage – let alone one who waited so long while psychologically healthy – is highly unlikely to find a home. Spraying is just one step too far for most pet owners to take on as a new pet, with whom they don’t already have some sort of attachment to. But me? I had all the attachment. And more than that; I knew she had “easy cat” somewhere inside.

She was hard. Was? Is. She is hard. She is so damn hard. Every sort of anxiety trigger you can think of, she has it. Behavioural responses indicating past physical abuse have come to light (and since she was originally picked up as an adult stray, who knows what went on). She has come close with varying distances to being pts on quality of life grounds no less than four times in the 21 months since coming home. Every time I think we’re getting somewhere, something “stressful” happens and the progress of several weeks or even months is gone. Just like that. The recovery time after each relapse is improving though, her responses to things that shouldn’t even make it into the book of mildly concerning happenings are getting better.

She saps what little energy I have. She makes my head hurt. She makes my heart hurt. But she is worth it. So worth it.

When I received the email that her longed-for home had failed, I had just mated up two rats. My friend Lilly (who had been one of those to tell me to keep Flicka initially) had driven over an hour to let me borrow bucks who were best suited for my long-deliberated plans. And then, two days later, I was having to decide between breeding rats with all the costs of doing so responsibly, and Flicka’s life (because in all honesty, given how things got much worse before improving, without me she wouldn’t still be here).

Having rats at fewer-than-breeding-numbers worked for a little bit. Maybe. Certainly it felt like it was working at the time, but in hindsight that brings me back to where I started. Who comes first? A few months later it became clear than I couldn’t juggle Flicka and any number of rats. All the traits I so prized in the family of rats I had chosen were the same ones causing the problems. Either the rats lost out on vital interaction, enrichment, exploration, or Flicka worked herself up into such a state that not giving her an out on life was cruel.  Parring back free range and cuddles in frequency worked a little, but I felt incredibly guilty. This was not the life my rats were used to. This was not the life I wanted to give them. This was not the life that was fair to them as individuals. Also see again with regards to lack of energy and how draining emotions are, let alone when you have to keep everything cocooned so that the blasted cat doesn’t react to a stiffened movement or breathing ‘wrong’.

So here I am with no rats (natural decline and not replacing numbers) in my house; a last rat living with a most trusted friend and new ratty friends of her own; and a cat who is stable enough to have access to a whole three permanent rooms, plus access to my bedroom when supervised of an evening.

I suppose my current rodent species may make a little more sense now. Big set-ups I can do. Species-appropriate homemade dry and fresh diets I can do. Appropriate vet care at considerably cheaper levels than rats I can do. Variety and enrichment I can do. Full-but-infrequent cleanouts of said large enriching cages I can do – although I usually change substrate and do layout changes on different days. Short bursts of cage-door interaction, cuddles and handling I can do. Extended amounts of regular free range I can’t do – but hey, that doesn’t matter because none of them are species and/or individuals who require that sort of dedication.

It’s a very different routine to that which has shaped the last 20yrs of my life pet-wise, but it works. And I can put my pets first without needing to chose which specific pets come first, or that which harms my own health.

 

[Side point: Flicka has her own blog, Flicka’s Freezer, which has been going since April ’15. It’s pretty much all cat things, and more casual in style – which means I update it more often as less energy is involved. However as of autumn ’15 she is fed raw food, a small amount of which is whole prey. While my mum did say that I’m a very weird vegetarian, I appreciate that not everyone on a rodent care website is necessarily interested in that side of things. I mean, I do use the tag “gore” so that one can avoid those posts, however I think you can only blacklist those posts if you have xkit/ tumblr saviour or another extension which adds-on to a tumblr account, vs just browsing by.]

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