A long time ago, during their university days, my daughters arrived home for the Easter break with a few white mice in a box. These are mice we managed to save from being given to a lab was their explanation; they knew that I would look after any animal in need of a safe home. I bought a large fish tank and furnished it with everything that discerning mice would appreciate. There was a little town of houses made of boxes acquired from the local pharmacy’s ‘unpacking department’, a ‘High Street’, and the diner. The boxes were there to provide entertainment and exercise they needed for a healthy life. As I didn’t know anything about white mice, never having been acquainted with any before, I observed the tank, not really expecting any revelations. Quite soon I realised that among them there was a leader, a rebel and a bully or two.
The rebel, called George, would not stay in the tank, no matter what. Showing skills of an escapologist, he would find a way out and I had to give him a roomy ‘house’, a box that stood in front of the unused fireplace, with a view on the whole room. A small plate at the side was elegantly filled with all gourmet food, including slices of fresh corn cob, his favourite. Holding a slice of corn with both hands on one side, George would try to manoeuvre the treat all by himself and into the house. Being ever so helpful, I would hold the other side of the slice until it had been safely delivered through the box’s door. George enjoyed his freedom and was a perfect guest. Nothing was ever damaged, and he would use the large plant pots as his loo. He was an independent soul and he was not aspiring to be anybody’s pet, but I had a feeling that he had a soft spot for me.
Within a short time I had to add more tanks as the mice multiplied. On the next visit, the girls and I decided that drastic action was needed, and that we had to separate the females from males. It should be easy or so we thought. Having two empty tanks ready side by side, we picked up the first mouse by her tail and looked at the ‘undercarriage’, it was obviously a girl. One by one we checked all forty mice, and all went in one tank. We looked at each other in dismay – this was not possible, where were all the males? We started the selection process again, this time prodding a little bit here and there in the appropriate region. Eureka! The right touch brought to the surface the bits that had been missing on the first inspection. At last, we could divide the mice among the nine tanks and sleep soundly that night.
In one of my previous posts, I wrote that all animals, including the relatively very small ones, had personalities that were noticeable to a dedicated observer. In my large group of white mice I could see those who formed friendships and those who disliked each other. One day, I noticed that a couple of friends, who I named Tweenies as they were inseparable, stood up against the side of the front of the tank, obviously trying to tell me urgently, by the look of their body language, something important. When I looked closely, it was obvious that they were being bullied, the tubby one especially, and they were desperate to leave the tank. Of course, I put them in a holding box and ran to the garden centre in our High Street that sold glass tanks. On my return the tank was furnished, lunch set out, and the Tweenies installed in their own private domain. Even I was surprised how happy and relaxed they were, out of the danger zone. From then on, they lived happily together, not a cross word between them.
Our naivete or rather ignorance when separating the males and females reminded me of my neighbour, Pat, who was given two rabbits. When she told me about her new acquisition of a brother and sister, remembering what rabbits do best, I cautioned her to immediately separate them. “No, no,” she said, “you don’t understand, they are brother and sister, they won’t do it.” You bet, was my parting shot. Needless to say, within a few months she had a colony of rabbits, and had to start giving them away. This story brought back the memory of a wonderfully funny tale that circulated about 25 years ago. For those born too late to remember it, I will weave the tale around animals of my acquaintance.
That summer my neighbour Pat was going on holiday and as usual asked me to feed her rabbits. All went well but a day before she was due back I found one of them, a greatly admired, long-haired, white rabbit, dead in the garden, and completely covered in mud. Thinking that my gentle and friendly dog must have somehow snapped, and in total panic, I picked up Angel, as the rabbit was called on account of his long white hair, and dashed to the bathroom. After two shampoos and a blow dry, Angel looked like his usual resplendent self, only unfortunately dead as a doornail. I didn’t dare tell Pat what had happened, and so I put him back in his cage where he lay looking convincingly asleep. Next day on her arrival, Pat called to say thank you for my help with the rabbits. “Just one thing, I don’t understand,” she said frowning, “on the day of our departure early in the morning, we found Angel had died suddenly, and so we buried him in a hurry in a shallow grave. What is he doing, looking better than ever, back in his cage?”