Valerie Stoldt (Cover Contest Winner)
From the January/February 1998 Rat & Mouse Gazette

Having been raised in the suburbs of Connecticut, I grew up swimming in spring fed streams, spending hours among the wildlife. My mother was always bringing home hurt animals of all kinds and the whole family would help nurse them to health in order to release them into one of many nearby wildlife reserves. This background created an extreme love for all creatures.

Several years ago, I moved to San Diego. Among the friends I made, was one whom I would accompany to pet stores on occasion. While he was looking for fish I would explore every inch of the store. One day, I went into the very back where I found feeder mice and rats. This practice repulses me, regardless of the many excuses of snake owners. On this day, I saw a beautiful adult rat with one tiny baby; I asked about them. When I was told that I could buy the mother, I asked what would happen to the baby. The response was gut wrenching and heartless.

"That’s the last of eight of her babies who were sold for food so, if you want the mother, take her." I responded "So then the baby will die of starvation if not sold for food first?" "Yes", he replied. "Maybe YOU can justify that, but I cannot have that on my conscience" I said as I left in tears, begging my friend to leave.

I did not sleep well that night. I kept seeing that beautiful mother and baby, and, feeling guilt over my inability to help them. Any pet is a commitment and I was afraid that I could not live up to it. However, my conscience led me back the next morning only to see that the mother was missing.

When I asked about her I was told that she had just been sold earlier.

I was afraid to commit to both mother and baby yesterday, but today I was MAD. I told my friend to guard that baby as I left to get supplies. I returned to purchase a baby rat just days old. It was pink and furless with its eyes still closed.

I took my newborn to work with me in order to give regular feedings of kittens milk with an eye dropper. It was about the third day that I first saw my newborn’s eyes starting to open, causing me to cry with happiness. It would be three weeks before my baby would be big enough not to be able to escape the wire cage and it broke my heart to have to leave my baby at home.

As my baby matured, I was astonished to find I had a rat the spitting image of her beautiful mother. My angel is a female Beige Hooded rat with deep garnet eyes. I named her Ronnie. A couple of months later, to keep her company when I could not, I bought her a dumbo eared sister whom I named Lillie. Lillie became better known as ‘Silly Lillie’ for obvious reasons as she inspires a number of rat tales.

A couple of months after adopting Lillie, my friend bought me a Blue rat after seeing for himself how beautiful they are. So, I added ‘Iris’ to the sisterhood. Iris was extremely intelligent and curious, and was never far from me, but Ronnie and Lillie were extremely jealous of her constant attention and closeness to me and one night Iris ran away, crushing my heart.

I want very much to adopt another angel, however, I am afraid that three is a crowd and I will again find them too difficult to manage. I don’t have the nerve to tell my veterinarian about my Iris; she was very fond of her, even leaving surgery one time to tend to my angel. Iris truly was a delicate flower, but for now, I will make good on my promise to Ronnie and her sister Lillie. I continue to give them the best that I can, spoiling them rotten in hopes of returning the love and laughter they give me every day.

Photo of RONNIE on front cover