To you who see animals in need and do something to help them, to Stella's rescuer, and to Stella, I say thank you. This site is for you.
Anyway, here's a story about Stella that I wrote awhile back. Nobody wanted it for their rat-related publications because it was 'too depressing.' Yep, sometimes reality is depressing. Read on if you wish...
There's Not Always a Happy Ending
I'm not sure why, but some people, actually a lot of people it seems, tend to believe that if a hardship arises, if a pet isn't what they thought it would be, if they're not able to offer that pet a perfect life, or whatever, that the most logical, kindest solution, is to set that animal free. "Free" can mean leaving said animal on their veterinarian's doorstep, the doorstep of the humane society, in their back yard, by toting the animal off into the woods somewhere, or simply just leaving them behind for someone else to (hopefully) take care of. What they fail to understand is that it's not "free," it's "fear."
Pets, be it cat, dog, rat, lizard, or cockroach, are a responsibility just like our children, our relatives, and our loved ones. But when someone we love fails to meet our expectations, we try to work with them, we try to understand, and we try to adapt. When we feel we have failed our pets, however, we try to find a way out of the agreement because with every spur-of-the-moment pet purchase and with every adoption, we all sign an agreement of commitment whether we realize it or not at the time. And as humans, we can rationalize almost any excuse for a way out because it takes less effort to do that than to empathize with our furry, feathered, or scaled friend in an attempt to work things out. And one of those effortless and seemingly with a "good heart" thoughts, is setting that animal "free."
Don't ever delude yourself: Most of these freed pets don't have a happy story to tell.
Imagine, if you will, being yanked out of your posh city dwelling and plopped somewhere in the middle of a forest. Hey, you're free! But you don't know how to survive there. You don't know how to provide your own shelter. You don't know what's safe to eat and drink. And you don't know what is friend and what is foe and nobody speaks your language. And you really don't know a thing about fear either...not yet, anyway.
The reality of it hasn't completely set in. They'll come back for you, you think to yourself. But in the meantime, you'll try to make the best of it. You find yourself some shelter under a tree and settle down. There are so many noises, though, and it's starting to frighten you. You're too nervous to seek food and it's getting darker so you decide to settle in for the night.
The sun rises and after quite a restless night's sleep, the first thing you do is look around: Not for food even though you're hungry, not for water, even though you're thirsty, but rather for the individual who left you there. It was a fun game but it's time to go home.
But that person's not there.
You're sad and you're scared but you know you have to maintain some level of optimism in order to stay alive and in good health for the return of your friend, the friend that loved you, played with you, cared for you, and took you for this little trip to the forest. So you again try to make the best of it. You pull together all of your strength and venture out in search of food. You find something. It's not your favorite, but that's OK. As soon as you return home, you'll get to fill up on all your favorites. Your stomach is cramping a little. Perhaps you should try to find something else to eat: Maybe it's hunger or maybe the food is poison - better to be safe than sorry.
While you're scouring the land for more food to eat, you hear a noise and feel like you practically jumped out of your skin. You spot the creature making the noise. He looks hungry and mean. You have to trust your instinct on this one. You know where you slept last night, you know how to get there, but it's not really that safe. There's no place to hide and if the creature follows you, you're sure to be trapped. You have to chance it and run in a new unexplored direction. You run and run and run and fortunately you lose him.
But now you're really hungry...and weak. My god it's hard out here. It'd be great to have a book or instructor or something! They just don't cover this kind of stuff in pet rat school. They only teach you the important things (or so you thought at the time) like how to gracefully accept a yogurt drop, how to groom your human in thanks for his kindness, how to snuggle with your human and enjoy it! They don't cover survival in a forest.
And in your newfound depression you start to wonder (your mind has been wandering a lot lately), "Did I forget to thank my human last time he was kind to me? Is this why I'm here? Am I being punished? Did he say for how long?" And you're so very sad. And the days come and go, and you're becoming sadder, weaker, more doubtful....but you stay near the place where you were left off because you still have hope, and one day....
The Likely Ending
A hawk comes swooshing down at you while you're up on the ledge looking for your friend that morning. You hear him but you're slow and aren't able to run in time. Your lungs are punctured by his claws and you can feel the air escape you. Your last thought is sadness for your friend will soon return and you will not be there for him and he will think that you left him because you did not love him. You are so sad, but soon the pain in your heart is gone, your stomach no longer hurts, and you no longer feel weak.
The Stella Ending
An unlikely visitor spots you standing atop the ledge and you're afraid but you know you're too slow and too weak to resist. They approach cautiously. You can hear them and they are saying that you don't belong there, that you're not wild. But you already knew that and you yearn for the human touch and although it's not your human, you cautiously move toward them, as they are toward you. As they whisk you up, you realize that they've not known others like you. They hold you in quite a weird manner and you can feel a pain in your rib cage but that touch, it's so great that you forget about the discomfort.
You take a brief moment to dream of all of the fun and happiness you had in your past life and hope that, although clumsy, this person will be able to bring some of that back to you. And you're tense, so very tense, because the past few days have been so rough but you try hard to hold it in because you don't want them to send you back. You try extra hard to smile and brux.
And you find yourself in one of those rumbling vehicles. You never liked them much before but now they seem so consoling. The rhythm of the motor pulls you to sleep and it's the best sleep you've had in a long, long time.
When you awake you find yourself in a loud place, the walls are close together and they're cold...glass? You're running back and forth trying to figure out where you're at. Was it all just a dream? No, it couldn't be - you smell wrong, dirty, offensive. You freshen up some trying desperately to get that bad wilderness smell off of your fur. It can't be too appealing to others, after all because it makes you nauseous! You hear a lot of talking. Someone is pointing at you through the glass. "I'm clean, please, love me!" You continue to clean with even greater fervor. Surely they will notice what a good person you are. Certainly they will stop pointing and take you out and hold you and rub your fur and kiss you.
But they don't. You hear yet even more noise. It's disconcerting. You hear the rustling of other rodents nearby, you hear the squawks of loud birds, you hear the chattering of what seems like a thousand human voices.
As the sun sets the chattering becomes less and less, but the rustling and squawking louder and louder. You're feeling nervous again, and sad. The food's OK, at least you don't have to search for it, but you can't live like this forever. You hop up to the top of the aquarium, cling desperately, and start chewing and clawing and pushing. You're not getting anywhere but maybe if you keep it up, just maybe, you'll be able to get out and find out where the other rodents are. At least then you won't be alone.
But as you're busy with the task at hand, someone walks up to the table on which your little glass box sits and they lift the lid which you are still holding onto with all your might, and they pick you up, hold you up to their nose, and put you in a box.
Once again you find yourself in one of those rumbling vehicles. This one's quieter but you're not sleepy this time, just curious. And so for what seems like a very long time, you stand up tall and peer out of one of the 6 little holes at the top of the box. You start to wonder, "What's next?" The person who held you smelled safe, held you securely. It felt right. But these days, you just don't know. Your life is getting weirder and weirder by the minute.
Next thing you know you're out of the box and in a huge cage. It's much larger than your last place though the memories of the forest and the glass box are so clear in your mind now that you don't remember much about it at all. And there are other rats around. You can hear them and smell them. They seem to want to know who you are as well. Maybe soon you will get to meet them.
And you do. You, Stella, are introduced to Isabelle and Isabelle to you. She has a story too. She tells you all about her kind human and how she apologetically told her over and over again that she had to leave for something called "school" and how she'd miss her so much but she did her best to find a good new home with Diane. But Isabelle, sensing your fear and distrust, follows up by telling you how great Diane is, how Diane loves all of the rats so much, and how everything is going to be OK. And she cries for you because of all you've been through. Your new friend, Isabelle, has heard about snakes and they sound scary, and she's heard about where the "sick" rats go at Petco and it sounds cold, but never in her wildest dreams had she ever imagined that there was life outside, at least not like that. Not so cruel....
But you don't mind anymore because that night, for the first time in a long time, you have not only a comfortable and quiet place to sleep but you have the warmth of a furry friend. You can feel her heart beat and it is so very comforting. You give her a lick of appreciation.
After spending some time at Diane's, Nathalie discovered Stella along with her abbreviated story on Diane's web page. Since most of her rats had since passed on of old age, she had plenty of room. Stella's a beautiful girl and she looked sharp in the pictures (she is!). Nathalie knew that Stella would be the perfect addition to her family. And she certainly is.
Stella's been quite busy building forts and nests, removing the lab blocks from the food dish one-by-one in the never-ending effort to reveal all of the "good stuff" hidden between the blocks, as well as rearranging the rabbit toys in the rat-romp-room just to get on the rabbits' last nerve. She's having a field day!
You'd never know about her terrible past by looking at her and handling her - She's one of the nicest rats we've ever had the pleasure of living with! But it still hurts me to think that someone didn't see how special she was, how worthwile it would have been to simply respect her by finding a home for her. Most pet rats aren't as lucky as Stella was.
Because of her I've put together this little place on the web in hopes that others won't just dispose of their pets outdoors and in hopes that those who find disposed pets can place them into homes without hassle. And also a little bit for their wild brethren too: they're really not as bad as people make them out to be.
All site content © 2004-2006, Nathalie Baldwin unless otherwise specified.