The Empty Cage

Five days after we took Odin to the vet, I'm sitting here feeling the approach of closure. You'd think I would be used to this by now: having owned countless small rodent creatures during my childhood, I was accustomed to rodent death - a few hours of heartfelt bawling, and then the promise of another small critter to soothe my sorrows.

It doesn't work like that anymore.

This was the first time I was the one responsible for the decision to end a pet's life. It wasn't a hard decision: the future didn't look bright for Odin, who was quite an elderly mouse at nearly three years old. It was, however, a painful one.

There isn't much to be said on the subject of Odin's passing: her benign tumour doubled in size over the past month or so, pushing aside her internal organs and making it difficult for her to breathe and walk. She was still eating, drinking and pooping - promising signs - but her quality of life was extremely diminished. Surgery was an option, but not a viable one. Friends were alarmed at the price of the vet visit - "$120 for a mouse? You can buy a new one for five dollars..." Had she had a better chance of surviving the surgery and living long afterwards, I would have done it in a heartbeat; likely to be three times the price of the vet visit and cremation. "We don't love them any less because they're small," said the vet as we were leaving. It is painfully true.

I passed out for hours after arriving home, due to being in the middle of a springtime cold and emotionally exhausted. I emptied her cage and set aside the things that needed to be washed. And that's all. I keep catching myself glancing over at her empty cage, sometimes catching a shadow in such a way that it looks - briefly and heart-wrenchingly - like Odin is still there. She was by far the best small rodent pet I've ever had - she didn't bite; she didn't hide and sleep all day. She got excited over new foods, and could come out to run around on my computer desk without throwing herself to the floor. She was gentle and didn't mind being handled. She was cute, friendly, easy to care for and fun to watch. I really do miss her, and don't think we'll ever be able to "replace" her - we may get more mice, but it is guaranteed they will not be the same.

I've also had time to contemplate the fate of my countless other pets as a child, and it's caused a fair degree of frustration. Most of my feelings on the issue can be summed up as "WTF, mom?"

How is is so common for children to be allowed to be primary caretakers of living creatures? It is, in fact, animal abuse. A twelve year old shouldn't be responsible for feeding, watering, entertaining, cleaning and providing medical care for small animals. A pet in the home is the adult's responsibility, not the children's. Period. Adults seem to care very little about an animal's welfare if it's a small and cheap pet - A hamster is only $7, they seem to think, so it's okay if it dies.

If I continue on with this train of thought any longer it will become a garbled mess containing more swear words than clean ones, so I'll just leave with this: if you are, or will ever be, a parent, do not be so stupid and vile as to expect your child to take care of a small pet. Because they won't... and the animal's death and poor life will be on your head.

And I'm terribly sorry for turning this eulogy into a soapbox.

7 things about

The Empty Cage
  1. Oh no!! Poor little Odin. My pet rats were the BEST pets I've ever had; they were seriously like my children, and I completely just choked up when I read what your vet said.

    Odin was sooo cute (and sounds like friendly as far as mice go)! I'm so sorry.

  2. i know i said it before, but i really am sorry about the loss of your buddy ... odin sounds like a good spirit in your life ... when they leave in body, they never do in spirit

    please take care of your heart xo

  3. Why would surgery be 120 dollars???

  4. You wrote this post in such a way it made me wish I had met Odin, and I felt your loss as you stared at the empty cage.
    Hope you feel better soon.

  5. Candy, Kiki, A: thank you for the well wishes; I'm just glad she had a good, long life. That's bringing a lot of peace.

    Anon: Vet costs for small animals is actually quite high, since it requires special training and they're delicate. That was just the cost of the vet visit and cremation; actual surgery would have been $300 or more. Things like nail clipping and neuter/spays are cheaper because they're common (A neuter/spay at the same vet for a rabbit ran me about $130), but surgery for a specific illness can get pricey... small animal are quite expensive when they get sick. Just ask any ferret or rat owner...

    April: We actually have the chance to inherit some rats from T's brother. He and his girlfriend got two rats, and he doesn't care for them much and she's moving back home for school... T's mum is caring for them now. They kind of scare me though: those big teeth and giant balls, haha. But everything I've heard is that they're great pets.

  6. I've actually had a very similar experience with a mouse, so I feel your pain!


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