Mooshika, “the fancy rat”, passed away last week.
All of you who know me personally knew my little guys: Mooshika, and his cousin Nicodemus, who passed away earlier this year.
The loss of a pet affects us more than we often acknowledge, I think.
Most people tend to associate dogs with unconditional love, but I believe other animals have it too, even the animals we sometimes malign.
I remember there were a lot of doubters when I announced my decision to get pet “fancy” rats. In New York City, the thought of a “rat” for most people brings to mind terrifying images of late night scurryings in subway tunnels.
Mooshi and Nick were not that type of rat, of course. These utterly tame little pets had about as much in common with their subway brethren as poodles do with wolves.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for misunderstood creatures. Maybe it came out of childhood teasing, but I always felt a strong kinship as a kid to animals in the mouse family. That love was fueled, I think, by the great mouse characters in children’s literature, all of which, though tiny and defenseless, were boundlessly brave: Sir Reepicheep from “The Chronicles of Narnia”, Tom Thumb and Hunka Munka from “Tale of the Two Bad Mice”, Mathias and Cornflower, etc.. from the “Redwall” series.
When I heard that there were “fancy rats”, species of rodents that had been domesticated as pets for hundreds of years, that carried no diseases, were cleaner than dogs, and equally as intelligent, I knew they were the perfect pet for a small, NYC apartment.
Over the past two years, I became enchanted with how much personality even the smallest creatures can have. Mooshi and Nick were my real life version of “Pinky” and “The Brain.” While Nick persistently tried to figure out a maze of paper towel roles with relentless energy, Mooshi would just sit lazily in my hand, making cute faces, till I gave him a cookie.
When I was home alone writing, there was something comforting about knowing another living creature was in the house.
There’s something utterly nonjudgmental about animals. One night, as I was freaking out to a friend about the fact that I was unemployed and worrying that people thought less of me for it, Mooshi licked my hand from between the bars of the cage.
“He doesn’t think less of you. He has no idea what work or money is,” my friend pointed out.
Mooshi couldn’t come to the door with a wagging tail like a dog, but in many ways, he was like a dog in miniature.
The little guy had a good life, better than any other rat, better, probably than a lot of people.
I don’t know if I’ll get another pet, or what member of the animal kingdom it will be. But I know Mooshika will be missed. R.I.P Mooshi – hope there are double-stuffed Oreos in heaven.