Archive for the ‘Rodents’ Category


Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Specifically, Roborovski hamsters, also known as the smallest hamsters in the world. I’ve now got three of ’em, and they’re all named Javier. Check it!

Very, Very Leetle

Very, Very Leetle

Shorter Than the Food Bowl

Reach, Javi, reach!

Munh! You may not enter my tunnel!

Munh! You may not enter my tunnel!

Okay, maybe you can enter my tunnel.

Okay, maybe you can enter my tunnel.

Javi in Le Tube

Javi in Le Tube
Little Hammie, Big Wheel

Little Hammie, Big Wheel

Little Hammie, Big World

Little Hammie, Big World

Le habitat

Le habitat





Toots adorbs, right? I’m massively in love with them. There’s only one problem, which is that they sleep from 7 AM to 9 PM. And as I keep them in my office, I basically do not see them, except as a sleeping mass in their hidey-house. Whoops!

In my own I’ve-had-a-million-rodents-I’m-not-that-dumb defense, I must say that I know that hamsters are nocturnal. But I was assured that Roborovskis are crepuscular, like rats. NOT BLOODY LIKELY, INCORRECT PERSON. I was also told that they do not fight. ALSO VERY WRONG. Ah, well. At least they have plenty of room for their scuffles. And if at some point I have to separate them, I already have two cages.

And three hamsters.

Okay, let’s just stop worrying and everybody go watch the puppy bowl.

Rat in a Box

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Last week rat Michelle dropped a precipitous amount of weight, and I wondered whether I should take her to the vet. But she was still active, and since her starting point had been . . . adorably obese, I hoped that she’d just bounce back.  Nope. On Monday, her breathing was labored, and I made an appointment.

Turns out Michelle has a respiratory infection, quite common in rats. In fact, 10 years ago, my rat Allison died from one, but Michelle is living pretty successfully with hers. Now she needs twice-daily doses of two antibiotics, plus a supplementary diet of baby food, which is easy to swallow and therefore more likely to get down the gullet of a congested rat.

It’s not easy to dose a squirming rat with medication, particularly if you get emotionally involved with your perception of the rat’s suffering.* But John is mastering an immobilization technique, so daily we’re improving. (Thank you, man-who-can-be-replied-upon-to-help-in-any-situation.)

*There are real signs, naturally: squirming, increased heart rate, tightened muscles, widened eyes, peeing, and shitting.

Meanwhile, I have some reflections about my experiences with veterinary medicine.

First, I generally like taking my rodents in for vet care. Why? All of the benefits of the waiting room—i.e., cute animals and friendly owners—and none of the stress of having a sick dog or a cat. Rodents live for only a few years, and I’ve taken that in stride, slowly accumulating a rodent graveyard à la Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State.

Even better, vets take every animal seriously. So even if you show up with a dwarf albino hamster that is essentially an anti-social cotton ball with teeth, they’re going to talk to you about the care options as though it’s a Very Big Deal. I always loved the High Import with which my vet would discuss my hamster’s over-long teeth, which had to be clipped every few weeks to prevent her from starving. No matter how much I giggled, he never even cracked a smile.

Occasionally, I could get him to veer off-topic by asking questions about other people’s rodents. And once he told me a story about  having flung a hamster who bit him across the room (It was a reflex!) right in front of the hamster’s entire human family, including children. (“Fluffy?”)

But that vet couldn’t see me Monday afternoon, so I was stuck with another office, where I’d had a not-great experience with gerbil Moomush a couple of years ago. This time, same deal. I could tell almost immediately that the doctor was a Science Vet, as opposed to an Animal Lover Vet. Witness the opening of the appointment:

Vet: Rat in a box?

Me: Yes, sick rat in a box.

Vet: How old is she?

Me: 15 months.

Vet: How old was she when you got her?

Me: 5 weeks.

Vet: How big was she then?

Me: [Hand gesture.]

Vet: Huh. So how big would you say she was at 3 months?

Me: [Another hand gesture.]

Vet: We’ve been thinking about when to tell people to get their female rats spayed. We know that when we spay dogs in time, they don’t get breast cancer, because breast cancer is related to estrogen. So we’re trying to figure out when to spay rats. Because rats get a lot of breast cancer. And maybe at 3 months they’d be big enough for it not to be microsurgery anymore.

Me: Huh.

Vet: So next time you get a female rat, don’t bond with her before 3 months. Then if something happens while she’s under the anesthetic, it won’t be as bad.

Me: Wait. You’re saying not to love her for 7 weeks?

Vet: Oh. Well. Right. Okay, scratch that.

Yep, that’s how it went. And it wasn’t just that she opened the appointment by bringing up something entirely unrelated to what was happening in the room—though it was that, too—it’s that she was, to put it bluntly, Talking Crazy Shit.

In other words, if putting a rat under anesthetic is life-endangering enough to discourage people from becoming attached (itself an insane idea: What person in possession of an open heart can control feelings of love for an animal in her care?), then what the effing eff is the point of spaying rats to prevent breast cancer?

Let’s maybe-kill this rat so we can make sure it doesn’t die later!


And another thing [wood-scraping noises as I adjust my soapbox for better comfort]: Never once, as we discussed Michelle’s care, did the vet mention that we are dealing with a rat, and that rats basically live for two years, and that given the givens, we might want to consider whether to treat at all.

For instance: The vet mentioned that if Michelle doesn’t do well on antibiotics, she should come in for x-rays, even though good x-rays of rodents are notoriously hard to get, since rodents do not stop moving. And if we do get a good x-ray, then maybe it shows that we need to do surgery, which is itself pretty complicated (again with the anesthetic), etc.

Sigh. It’s exhausting, really.

I appreciate that they take rodents seriously, as I said. What I also want them to do is take quality-of-life, expenses, and death seriously as well. This vet never seemed to consider that I might not want to, or be able to, pay for certain interventions; that the risk-benefit ratio of said interventions might not pencil out in their favor; or that the most humane thing to do to a rat who is suffering may just be to put her down.

Can I get a little reality here, Vet-Bot?

Some warm human interaction would have gone a long way as well.

And . . . Today’s Tirade finito completo.

Today in Rats

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

For several months now, the rats have been systematically destroying an old chair in our front room/foyer/weirdly tacked-on  space that doesn’t have a proper name (or heat).

For the last week, Melanie has taken to spending her entire day in that chair, nesting among the innards.

And today, Melanie would like to say hello to you from that chair.

Little Rat Peep

Little Rat Peep


Mother-in-Law Rattie Sesh!

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

I have three mothers-in-law.


I invite you to figure it out. It’s a fun logic problem! Or blindingly obvious, perhaps?

Anyway, one of them loves garanimals as much as I do. It’s such a pleasure to see her light up in the presence of anything furry.

On Sunday, we took her to Point Isabel, which I tend to think of alternately as Dog Heaven and Melissa Heaven. The dogs, there are so many! And they are off-leash! Jumping into mud puddles, or the Bay, or chasing after things!

I wasn’t sure whether this MIL would like the rats, though. Some people are against rats (for shame). But not she! She loves them. And she spoiled them rotten with lots of play time while she was here. Witness:

Two Happy Garanimals

Two Happy Garanimals

Joy to the World

Joy to the World

Ear Tickle!

Ear Tickle!

Love on the Shoulder

Love on the Shoulder

Rat Back!

Melanie the Intrepid, Michelle the Slinker, and MIL the Happy

Could you DIE?

Rattie Photo Sesh!

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

We’re heading to Mendocino for my birthday (Facebook me your love on July 26). In the meantime, here’s some cuteness to tide you over.

Bedding Bag

Bedding Bags

Melanie on the bags of bedding. Please may she never decide to chew through one of these.

Shoe Nibble

Shoe Nibble

Melanie loves toes—fingers and toes—because they’re nibble-ready. Here, obviously, she has encountered an obstacle.

The View from On High

The View from On High

The only way I can prevent Melanie from squiggling off of me is to get her up high. (Either that, or allow her to nibble my fingers and toes. See previous.)

Sorry about the blurry. I took these photos myself, people. While I was rat-wrangling.

Crawing into the Jacket

Crawling into the Jacket

Both rats feel safe inside clothing and tend to burrow into my fleece jackets. Sometimes I have to remove the jacket to get them out.

As you can see, no Michelle. She’s still a hide-and-seek kind of a rat. And always will be, I imagine.

Happy week! See you on the other side.

I Gots Me Some Rats

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

It’s been a while, so I know you’re craving a rat update. And today: photo shoot with Michelle!

What's that pink square thing in front of your face?

What's that pink rectangle in front of your face?

It’s not easy to capture a rat head-on, as they scamper quickly and aren’t interested in vogue-ing. Plus, that annoying digital delay renders intention pretty much irrelevant. You point, click, and hope. Also, sometimes they freeze in fear. Yay!

I'll perch here and have a little lookout.

I'll perch here and have a little lookout.

Like other rodents, rats like to hide behind things. Also like other rodents, their curiosity pulls them out of their hiding places and into the unsafe open. Again, yay!

How far down?

How far down?

Rats are excellent acrobats, far more agile than hamsters or gerbils. They can jump to and from great heights. Happily, this book case is a little too high for a free-fall.

How's the view over here?

How's the view over here?

Which doesn’t stop Michelle from looking and wishing, looking and wishing.

She’s cute, huh? I’m pretty fond of her.

In other rat news, Melanie is a nipper. I’m pretty sure it’s food-related, so I have various strategies in mind, but my favorite right now is denial. Wheeeee!

Monday, Monday

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Newsflash: The Academy Awards matter even less when you’re felting.

Rat-wrangling adds a dimension, too.

Are these signs of aging? Or just . . . enlightenment?

I will admit to love, love, loving Anne Hathaway’s blue dress, which the Internet tells me is Armani Privé. What is privé—private? Yeah, I guess now that the grubby, value-deflating masses have gotten their hands on regular old Armani, Giorgio had to do something to reinstate brand exclusivity.

I’m sure when I debut my first felt collection and Target asks me to do a budget line, I’ll have to come up with something special for the elite, too. It happens!

Speaking of the elite, I would like to publicly declare my distaste for San Francisco Magazine. Try as I might, I cannot prevent KQED from sending me this shameless society rag. And . . . puh! I spit upon it!

I remember when I was doing a little a la carte journalism in St. Louis, and the alt weekly shared offices with the city mag, and I therefore one day found myself pitching articles to the magazine’s (awesome) Managing Editor. And she nixed and neighed and noped and nahhed, and then finally she sighed and said, “Melissa, St. Louis Magazine is for rich people.”


Same dealio with San Francisco Magazine, except they do their own editorial fashion, which for whatever reason translates into making up the models to look like mannequins or dead people. Which is not merely offensive but done. In case they didn’t know.

And then this issue! Has an article! About Mike Daisey’s show on Apple! Which we saw at the Berkeley Rep—which John, in fact, saw twice. And . . . gaaaaah. Because whereas the point of Daisey’s brave and difficult show is to expose the wrenchingly disturbing labor practices in the Chinese factories where Apple products are made, San Francisco Magazine has decided that the show is about gossip, and more particularly about Steve Jobs’ capricious personality.

It’s as though the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Chinese people is a blink in the consciousness, whereas the fact that Steve Jobs might suddenly fire someone who says the wrong thing is front-page news.

Ew, San Francisco Magazine. EW.

I’d like to end by thanking Hayao Miyazaki, whose films I’m just beginning to make my way through. My Neighbor Totoro is such a delight. And Howl’s Moving Castle, while ultimately silly, is gorgeous and has a very rich first hour.

Pixar, could you please take some notes? Perhaps beginning, middling, and ending with adventurous, sympathetic female heroes of all ages?

Kitchen Sink

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

The Beauty of Blogging #32: Random thoughts in list form are not merely acceptable but genre-defining.

1) As usual, the Academy Award noms are crap. Sigh. Can we put the French in charge? Or at least me?

2) Please see The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Mike Daisey’s latest show (in repertory with The Last Cargo Cult at The Berkeley Rep). Fascinating, hilarious, and deeply distressing. We’ve seen . . . 6? of Daisey’s shows now, and they’re always worth it. He comes out swinging, and his obsessive intellect is well worth following down any number of rabbit holes. In this case, though, major, major FUCK: labor conditions in China. We are all complicit. And it is truly horrific.

3) Mumblecore. I feel like I was there in the beginning, having reviewed Andrew Bujalski’s Funny Ha-Ha in early 2003 and the Duplass brothers’ Puffy Chair in 2006, two foundations of the subgenre. Plus, I’ll never forget one of my favorite moviegoing moments in recent years: About an hour into the verrrry slow and intentionally flaccid Mutual Appreciation, John bursts into laughter, suddenly GETTING IT big, and then we can’t stop, and it’s massively awesome.

Last night I watched yet another installment, Hannah Takes the Stairs, and . . . maybe we need to be finished with the subgenre. Or take it somewhere else. Because  listless twentysomethings falling in and out of non-relationship relationships are not so interesting when they can’t even articulate their particular brand of pain. Also, why does it feel like Bujalski casts conventionally beautiful women as romantic others so he can kiss them on-screen? Is that just projection? It’s kind of creepy.

4) While I watched the movie, Melanie rooted around in my fleece jacket, burrowing into the sleeves as rats are wont to do. By the last twenty minutes, she was peeking out of the neck, and finally she hopped out and began exploring the bed. This is good news! in the sense that it demonstrates decreasing fear. It’s not as good news in that before long, she’ll be exploring everything else, and the true challenge of rat ownership—i.e., keeping the little smartypantses from boredom—will begin.

Culture + Rodents

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Two movies, a book, and baby rats!


Blue Valentine had been billed as a gorgeous movie about a relationship beyond saving, which if you’re trying to get me into the theater is one of the more compelling pitches you can make. (Another: “It’s a dysfunctional family dramedy.”) Relationship dynamics is a beloved topic, and I’m always interested to see whether I can imagine a way forward for a vexed couple. Plus, I love to compare notes with John.

(This is how I pitched the movie to him: “The reviewer from the Chron says that you feel for both of them but can’t imagine how to help them. But I have a feeling we’ll know.”) (Please insert humility.)

It is a beautiful movie, raw and gritty and real, and unflinching in the best way. I was blown away by its bravery in the face of abortion, among other things. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ acting is mind-blowingly open—they’re practically flayed, here—and the present/past scene splicing allows the story to unfold in full emotional bloom. (Richard Brody, you and I are in diametric opposition on this point, grrr.) As a whole, the film is an indelible aesthetic experience, not easily forgotten, and I was grateful to Derek Cianfrance for laboring to get his vision on the screen.

One gripe: If the point is that love can tragically crumble in the face of regular life, Gosling’s character should not become an alcoholic. Because the obvious problem is that he can’t stop drinking, and there shouldn’t be an obvious problem. There’s a moment late in the film when Dean says to Cindy, “Tell me what to do. Just tell me what to do.” And John and I almost said it out loud, in harmony: “Stop drinking.” John’s argument was that presumably she’s already told him, and he can’t, but in that case, alcoholism is still the culprit in a movie that doesn’t need, or want, a culprit.

By the way, that would have been the way forward for these two: 1) Deal with the alcoholism and 2) Deal with the accrued feelings beneath. That’s pretty much always our prescription, so I’ll spare you the NorCal details (couple’s therapy, bodywork, etc.). But just in case you were wondering.

And then there’s Somewhere, a movie whose trailer promises so much more than the film delivers. Oh, Sophia Coppola, why can’t you make another Lost in Translation? She’s certainly working the same theme—alienation/disaffection of a movie star—but in this case, we’re imprisoned in a dead consciousness, forced to spend 90 listless minutes with a man who has emptied out. Elle Fanning should have been in every scene! But I suppose that would have made it another Lost in Translation, or something so close to it that Coppola would worried about repeating herself. Sigh.


I’m nearly finished with Persuasion, which I’m reading as part of my anti-poverty-via-Kindle campaign. (I also downloaded some Dickens, but . . . oy.) Did Jane Austen invent the romantic comedy? Because the whole thing is like one big Sandra Bullock movie, wherein the plot is constructed to keep the lovers apart until the last possible moment, except for short, highly charged, and fleeting moments designed to string us along. I’m 77% finished and have taken to yelling “Just kiss already!” at the screen.

Also, is it horrible that I am only now realizing that I’ve probably read it before? I’d thought that Pride and Prejudice was the only Austen novel I’d read, but as I’ve made my way through Persuasion I’ve had a vague sense memory of previously having underlined every occurrence of the verb “to persuade” in the text, and of having felt pree-ty smart for doing so, as though nobody else in the history of literary criticism would have noticed Austen’s very intentional use of the word.  Heh. Youth. (Except probably I was at least 20.)


At long last, the baby rats are here—Melanie and Michelle. I’m embarrassed that their names are so similar to mine, but it’s not as though I chose them. They just obviously were Melanie and Michelle, and I had no choice but to acknowledge as much. They’re hooded, i.e., black-headed, with black stripes down the back and white everything else, including bellies. I love a white fur belly! Yes I do!

So far, they’re still settling in, figuring out their ginormous cage, and getting braver by the day. Last night my friend Judy and I (hi, Judy!) had them out for quite a while, and Melanie gained enough courage to leave the safety of my fleece jacket for the hills and valleys of the couch! (Michelle snuggled down into Judy’s hood and went to sleep.)

I’m sure we’ll find our rhythm as we go. But it’s already clear that they’re going to need heaps of intellectual stimulation, as predicted, so I’m scheduling play dates for anyone who wants them. Got kids? Want some warm ratty snuggles? Bay Area peeps, make yourselves known!


Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Every morning as John heads out the door, he stops at my desk to say goodbye. Today he reported that he had a song stuck in his head:

J: If I had a hamster, I’d hamster in the morning . . .

(This was a reference to a hilarious and underappreciated Facebook status I posted a week ago.)

Then, together, we sang:

If I had a hamster, I’d hamster in the morning, I’d hamster in the evening, all over this la-and. I’d hamster out danger! I’d hamster out warning! I’d hamster out love, between, my brothers and my sisters, a-all over this la-a-and . . .

It wasn’t, shall we say, the most melodic of duets.

J: Clearly we have different notes associated with that song.

M: [Hysterical laughter.]

J: What?

M: [Tears of hilarity.]

J: What?

M: That’s not how it works! You don’t associate notes with a song. There are notes in a song, and you try to sing them!

J: [Chuckling.] Huh.

M: Seriously. You’re doin’ it wrong.

J: [Same chuckle, no admission of error.]

M: Your world is so loose and fancy-free. I don’t understand how anything ever comes together.

J: [Thinking.] Volume.

M: Oh, my God.

J: [Adorably self-satisfied smile.]

M: That was genius.

J: Thank you.

[Hugs and kisses. John heads out the door. I turn to the computer.]

[A moment later, he charges back through the door and heads to the bedroom.]

J: My face is too dry!

M: I’m blogging this entire thing. Right now.