We’ve had our pet rats for a little while now and they’re both starting to get a bit more confident. Willow, the shy one, has grown significantly more than her sister Lara, making it quite an amusing sight when they play-fight in the evenings.
One thing I find with all animals is that I can’t help but anthropomorphise them. They are little people to me, even though I know they can’t understand the things I’m saying and that the cute little nibbling thing they do on your finger isn’t necessarily a sign of affection — it’s more likely them determining whether or not I’m something they can eat.
This means I do silly things like talk to animals. I talk to cats. I talk to dogs. And I talk to our rats, even though they probably find those freakishly huge giants who keep dropping treats into their home utterly terrifying.
I can’t help it. I don’t know why I talk to them when I know they can’t understand me. But I do. I say their names, hoping that they’ll learn them. I hope that they’ll come when I call them. When they do do something, it’s easy to assume that it’s because I did something to encourage them. If I say their name and they jump on the side of the cage to climb up and see me, it feels like “I did that” even though it’s probably just coincidence. (I know that you can train a lot of animals to respond to their names and to come when you call them, and that rats are surprisingly intelligent little furballs, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they are responding to me and coming to see what I’m doing.)
I guess this sense of attachment I feel to pets, and the assumption that they are somehow “little people” rather than “not particularly intelligent bundles of fluff”, is what makes them good companions and nice things to have around. And animals certainly do have their own personalities — our two rats have clearly defined character traits, and the two cats who have been a part of my family in the past both also acted in their own unique ways. The two cats who live next door to Andie and I now, too, are both their own “people”, though they are both united in their desire to get into our house as often as possible. (They haven’t succeeded since we got our new sofa, and are being kept well away now we have the rats, too!)
The downside of seeing pets as “little people”, of course — and I apologise for getting maudlin here — is that it makes it hard to deal with when they pass on. I recall feeling genuine grief — like, the sort of grief you feel when an actual person dies — when both our family cats died. One such outpouring of said grief can be found here, from the early days of this blog.
But let’s not focus on sad things. We have pets now, and they are great. They are becoming much more confident, too, so soon we might even be able to actually take them out of the cage, pet them and play with them. They’re still a bit too jumpy for that just yet — Andie’s had a couple of bites just from trying to pick them up — but they seem to be learning that the Big Scary Things who keep opening their cage are actually sources of Treats rather than things to be feared.
We have thus far resisted the urge to fill Facebook with rat pictures in the same way people with new babies incessantly fill Facebook with baby pictures (please don’t change your profile pic to your baby, it’s creepy) but I’m sure that will change as they get happier and more at ease with us. So you can look forward to that.