Shortly after arriving in my new home on Vancouver Island, I was fortunate enough to fall into a job at the local animal shelter, replacing my sister who has returned to university to study veterinary medicine. She has a natural gift for dealing with animals so was in her element. It’s safe to say that I am not quite as comfortable in my new position. It’s not that I don’t like animals. I do. We have quite a menagerie at home with three cats and a dog but I’ve always been a little timid around larger dogs and have an aversion to insects, spiders and rodents.
The first few weeks passed by with no real issues. I got to play with some puppies and make cute cat videos (just kidding – I definitely don’t even watch those) and generally get paid to just keep the kittens alive long enough to find them a new home down island. But that all changed last week when Winter arrived.
Anyone who knows me knows that after a few years of Winnipeg winters the last thing I need is winter in July. This particular Winter was worse than the winter of 2013-2014. This particular Winter was an unwelcome guest I had to provide food, water and shelter for. This particular Winter was supposed to be gone in just a few days and took the form a small, albino, RAT.
Yes, I found myself responsible for the well-being of a creature that in my Parisian days I avoided like the plague.
On the first day I arrived at the shelter I learned that she (we did eventually determine it was female) had been ‘rescued’ from a ladies garden and was taken into the shelter under the assumption that she had been somebody’s pet. While I didn’t express this opinion at the time, this is my honest opinion on the matter: “WTF?!”
I mean the rat wasn’t especially large or overly friendly. She just happened to be white, or more specifically albino. It was found outside and no one claimed her!
Nevertheless, once she became resident at the shelter it was my duty to ensure her comfort and survival. I would definitely never deliberately inflict harm on any living creature (except mosquitoes, sorry!) but I certainly don’t like rats. Actually, I kind of hate them. It’s the tail. It really creeps me out. Anyway, I developed an ingenious way of providing food and water without even having to open the cage door. I just poured the water into the container from above and dropped in some food. This would be easy. I only had to put up with/care for her for three days and, from the front, she was almost cute.
Unfortunately it wasn’t quite that simple. If you have any experience of keeping small animals in a cage you are probably familiar with the smell. By day two of my watch the smell was developing and I knew I would have to open up the cage and change the bedding. Day three came. I had a plan.
I found an alternative and slightly larger cage. This was brilliant. All I had to do was prepare the new cage and transfer Winter from one to the other. I could literally just tip her out of the first one and into the second one. The only thing I hadn’t considered which made this task a lot more difficult was that the new cage door opened from the front and the original cage opened from above. In the end it was fine and she seemed to love her new home. Good deed done and by next shift she would be gone. Taken to a Small Animal Rescue Centre elsewhere in B.C. Great!
To my dismay Winter outstayed her welcome (a feeling I usually possess about winter in general) and this is where it gets absurd. When I arrived at the shelter for my shift the following week there was note to say that they were trying to get Winter booked on a flight.
The rat was being booked on a plane to Vancouver!
I resumed my feeding duties and managed to open up the cage to get food and water in. She seems to have a taste for watermelon (and human flesh if I heed the note that had been taped to the cage – ‘Bites. HARD!’). I left the shelter relieved. She would soon be gone.
After a few texts back and forth the next day I found my entire afternoon being planned around a rat. This little pest was to be chauffeur driven to the airport by yours truly and to make matters worse I had to go into work early to get her settled into her transportation case. For many people this would have been a 5 minute job. Open up cage, pick up rat, pop in carry case, done.
This task took me no less than 45 minutes with gloves, shaking hands, arms and in the end legs of jelly. I strategically placed the carry case on its side while attempting to hold up its sliding roof-trap-door with one hand as it kept slamming shut every time Winter approached. My heart was racing. I tried a balancing act of tipping the first cage on its side (damn that front opening door!) and into the carrier from above. I tried removing the base of the original cage but that was too risky. She could end up falling on me and then we would neither of us be going to the airport. Finally I had traumatized the poor creature enough that she felt the smaller carry case with sliding door seemed like the better option. I have never slammed a door so quickly in my life. By this point I was also in full panic mode.
Almost an hour later, after I had taken a few minutes to calm my nerves and make damn sure there was no escape from the box, we set off for the airport. The rat was given VIP treatment as we queue-jumped and were escorted into the back hanger of the airport. She even got a free-ticket to Vancouver and picked up at the other end. That’s what I call travelling in style!