We don't know for certain how old he was when we got him: he'd been confiscated, along with a snake, by animal control, and was earmarked as raptor food when Gayle brought him home. He was not the most cuddly of the rats we've had. He kept himself occupied in the two-story cage that he inherited after the last of the previous four rat occupants died.
For most of the time he was with us he had this nasal congestion that we never figured out. Oftentimes he would make these squeaking or barking sounds as he ate, or as he groomed himself. We had read that such sounds are not normal for rats, so we had him checked repeatedly by his vet. But never did he develop any sort of respiratory problems in his lungs. And many, many times it seemed he could choose when and when not to make those sounds, which was very puzzling. One would think that if he was ill he would constantly make those squeaks, but he didn't.
Around dinnertime he always could be found on the second floor, at the corner of his cage nearest the kitchen, either standing tall, or squatting, and taking in any smells from food that he liked in the kitchen. We would often stop what we were doing and go talk to him, then open a cage door so we could take him out and hold him for a few moments before we put him back and we went on with whatever we were doing.
Eventually, we settled into an evening routine of feeding and treating him after I had walked Sadie and Katie around the block. First, I cleaned out all three of his litter pans and filled them with new newspaper. Then if he had soiled the newspapers lining his floor pans I'd replace those with new sheets of paper. (He had a habit of getting in the way when I tried to remove the soiled newspaper, so I would have to gently nudge him away so I could finish.)
Now it was time to prepare his food. I'd grab one large and two small ceramic bowls, and place them on a cutting board. In one small bowl I'd spoon a small dollop of baby food, add 0.15cc of Benadyl, place the bowl in the microwave and heat for 6-7 seconds. Then I opened his cage door and placed it on the second-story floor of his cage, whereupon he ran to the bowl and ate. While he was occupied with that, I'd pour some oatmeal and Cheerios in his second bowl, and gave that to him after making sure all the baby food (and medicine) was gone. Then the large bowl was filled with fruits and veggies, and then into the cage that bowl went.
The routine of cleaning and feeding could be tedious, and at times be a downright chore when I wasn't in the best of moods. But watching him go over his food, grab a piece and begin eating while manipulating the morsel in his little hands was something all of us never got tired of.
Tonight, I looked at his cage with the newspaper-lined pans; the cut sheets of flannel Gayle had placed atop the newspaper so that his failing hind feet would not slip; the cubical tent with the openings that he would peek out of whenever we offered food; the litter pans where he would often stash his food in one of its corners; the big plastic igloos where he would often retreat with a prized chunk of banana. It is too quiet.
My evening routine has now changed; the reality is that I no longer have to spend time cleaning litter pans and preparing bowls of food. I now have a little more free time for myself: I can choose to spend that time on things that I have put aside because I was cleaning and preparing.
I hate this reality.