Nightmare at the Los Angeles County Fair
From the May/June 1997 Rat & Mouse Gazette
It was with eager anticipation that Aries and I awaited the 1996 Los Angeles County Fair Rat and Mouse Show. His mom and dad had done well at the show the previous year, taking home ribbons that still hung in his room. Aries was in prime form to win ribbons to hang next to theirs. In his short life he had already won his share of ribbons and trophies: two times Best Tailless, Runner-Up Best in Show at the Pet Expo, Sweetest Rat, and Best Pet to name a few. Yep, September 28, 1996 was going to be his day.
The other rats who were also going to the Fair were looking forward to it as well. They knew they were going to get a lot of attention from Fair-goers and get treated with yogurt drops. It was Aries who was the most excited, however. He wanted to be in the show, but he also was looking forward to it being over. He had been separated from his cagemates for a week so he wouldn't get any sores or scabs, and he didn't like it. He was a "rat's" rat as well as a "people's" rat. He loved his cagemates and had rarely been in any scraps with them. He was a happy, active, exceptionally curious little guy and was always the first one to run to the cage door whenever he saw anybody enter the room. If you put your fingers through the cage he would always lick them, and if you took him out and held him close, he would always kiss you (one reason he won Sweetest Rat and Best Pet). Most of all, however, Aries loved to run. He would always check out every corner of the house when he was out, moving so fast he would sometimes seem to be in two places at once. Another of his endearing qualities was that he would always come when he was called; a great trait that ensured many romps around the house for him.
When the morning of the Show arrived Aries was ready and eager to go, running around the cage in his excitement, readily going into his carrying case. After loading Aries and the rest of the rats and our paraphernalia, we were off to the Fair. Little did we know of the nightmare that was to follow.
Upon arrival at the Fair building (around 8 a.m.), we noticed there were only four or five seats available, and these were brought by the people sitting in them. Okay, we'd stand. We also noticed the area was not cordoned off, leaving the animals vulnerable if they were not being watched all the time.
When the show began, mice were judged first. It seemed to go slowly, however, and it soon became apparent that it was because there was only one judge, and she was training someone. It also became apparent that the day was going to be hot and humid; not good conditions for animals in a building with only a swamp cooler for air conditioning. We brought plenty of water and oranges though, so we figured the rats would be okay.
As the judging and day progressed, however, we realized it was going to be a very long day for the rats (and us). Security seemed to be non-existent in the area, and the lack of ropes around the animals made for much cage finger-poking and hitting by children whose parents should have known better. It thus made it almost impossible to leave your animals unless a friendly neighbor would watch them for you. (We later learned that, indeed, a mouse had been stolen from the Show.)
By early afternoon my husband and I decided we had to go and get something to eat and just walk around a bit. A very sweet woman and her children whose animals were next to ours offered to keep an eye on our rats while we left. The rats themselves had started to look a little peaked and were all lying down and sleeping.
When we returned (about 40 minutes later), we noticed the rats seems to be getting progressively more uncomfortable. The heat and humidity was indeed taking its toll - on the animals and humans alike. People were starting to drag and my glasses kept sliding down my nose. Next to the rats and mice were birds who were weary as well.
On closer inspection of our rats we noticed that even when picked up, they still were somewhat limp. We also noticed that Aries in particular was having a really difficult time. I picked him up but he did not move. He was panting hard and was obviously in distress. I sprayed him with water, put him back in his cage, and tried to fan all the cages.
After about an hour more of this, with people themselves becoming limp and ill, we started to think about leaving. It was already mid-day yet I had not shown any of my rats. Although check-out time for animals was not until 9:00 p.m. that night, it was obvious the conditions that existed were too extreme for the animals to endure.
Two other RMCA members decided they had to leave immediately to spare their rats more discomfort. I realized that if I were going to save Aries, I would have to do the same. At the Small Stock window I said I wanted a pass to leave the Fair. I was given a pass without question, as were the other two members. I assumed it was because they realized the danger that existed for these little animals under the extreme conditions there.
It was about that time (finally) that the Kitten Class was called. I had one little Champagne guy that I thought would do well so I decided to put him in and leave afterwards. He came in third; I was happy. (He later went on to win Best in Show when he got older.) As soon as he got his ribbon, we left.
On the way home, with the air conditioning on high, the rats all seemed to revive. All except Aries, that is. He continued to remain limp and lethargic, in spite of the cool air finally on him. At home Aries still was not his regular self and did not eat much no matter what he was offered. I watched him and held him constantly, giving him antibiotics and praying he would recover. Every morning I would run to his room, hoping I would see the old Aries: bright, energetic, and ready to kiss. Every morning I was disappointed though, for every morning he seemed more lethargic. The antibiotics were not helping and I was getting more frantic. Then one morning when I went in to see him, he was lying on the floor of the cage. I called to him, but he did not respond. Apprehensively I opened the cage door and reached in to wake him. It was then that I realized, to my horror, Aries had died How could this have happened, I kept asking myself. How could a vibrant, energetic little rat suddenly become so ill that within a few short days he was gone.
I learned later that a virus appeared at the Fair and that it had infected some of the animals there. Although I cannot say for sure what happened to Aries, he just never recovered from the incredible stress he endured at the show that Sunday. And if he had perchance been infected with the virus, it would have kept his resistance so low that it would have been nearly impossible for him to have recovered. Whatever the case, my husband and I were extremely devastated by his untimely death; and it was months before I was even able to say his name without losing my composure.
A few days after this terrible shock and loss, I received a letter from the American Family Rat & Mouse Association (AFRMA). It was the club in charge of the show and to which I had belonged for several years. The following is the letter in which I realized the health and well-being of helpless little rats and mice came only second to AFRMA's desire to maintain "good relations" with Fair personnel.
My husband's and my response is as follows and is the last communication we have ever had with AFRMA.
Needless to say, I did not renew my membership with them and do not plan to subject my rats ever again to the stresses of the L.A. County Fair. I would not trade the life of one of my precious pets for any money, ribbon, or trophy in the world. Aries, I still miss you and love you.
We gave AFRMA and the L.A. County Fair the opportunity to respond for this article. AFRMA chose not to respond, while the Fair sent the following letter:
Editor's Note: Although we are happy the fair cared enough to respond, we are not happy with the action they chose to take. The reason for publishing this and bringing it to the attention of the international rat and mouse community was to try to make them better the conditions provided at functions like these, not to have them stopped. If you ever see inhumane conditions at any fair involving animal, contact the main office immediately. It is only when enough people complain about shoddy animal treatment that any action will be taken. We can only hope that by printing articles like this that it will move concerned rat and animal lovers to act.