Monday, January 13, 2014

A Little Mouse And A Little Heartbreak

This is a tribute to a little survivor named "Marshmallow".

Marshmallow spent the last couple of weeks of his life on the border between being a pet and being snake food.

We have a pet snake named "Copper". Copper is a corn snake that has doubled in size over the past year. His name comes from his coloring which reminds us of the copper stained cliffs around Bisbee, AZ.

The irony of the following tale is I was once quoted as saying "name it or eat it" regarding the pet snake. I even suggested the name "Belt" at one time. Eventually, my wife, daughter, and I settled on a name. The naming marked his final gateway into being a family pet.

Well, Copper eats once a week or so. If he is close to shedding, his appetite is a bit lower. The feeding day after shedding, it is normally a bit higher. He usually gets a small mouse and a "hopper" (teenager) a week. We normally feed him the larger mouse first. Copper can get lazy. If we give him the smaller, younger mouse, he hunts it, then seems to consider it too difficult to bother going after the larger one. If we somehow handicap the larger mouse, the snake will still eat it, though. It comes from instinct, culling the pack or herd of the weakest, just as happens in nature.

A couple of weeks ago, Copper had just barely started to "haze over", signs he'd shed in 5 days to a week. His appetite is usually normal. We suspected he'd be at that "don't bother me, no hungry, shedding" point on the next feeding day. Knowing we may end up skipping a week's feeding due to that, we got him his usual mouse plus hopper weekly meal.

The grown mouse was a little on the larger side. But Copper stalked and swallowed it like a champ. So we put the little "teenager" or "hopper" in the snake cage. A few hours later, Copper seemed to be half-hardheartedly stalking the mouse. He'd creep, strike, miss, then move away. An hour later he may try again. So, we left the mouse in there.

The next day, we didn't see the mouse in the morning. We figured the snake ate him. When my wife returned from work, though, she saw the mouse hiding under one of the snake's rocks, unscathed. We left the mouse in the cage another night. We figured that if the snake was hungry, he'd hunt it at night. If the mouse survived, we'd come up with another plan.

The next morning, there was this little survivor clinging to the top of  the snake's cage by the heating light, shivering. The mouse was cold. But he was smart enough to climb out of the snake's reach and to a spot to get warm.

So, we looked at an old aquarium that used to serve as Copper's home. We decided the little guy could hang out in the aquarium until the next weekend. After all, this was a Tuesday (New Year's Eve) and the snake may shed by Saturday and be hungry as heck come Sunday.

Sunday came. the snake still hadn't shed. The mouse was still alive. I referred to the mouse as "mouthful the snake snack". Somehow that was translated into "Marshmallow". Still, it was the name for food. That was the intent for the mouse, to be food.

We continued to feed Marshmallow bits of fruit, cheese, and nuts. He ate. He drank. He played. That Sunday, our kid came home. She knew nothing of the tale. I made the mistake of saying "Hi Marshmallow" when I walked into my room. That prompted the kid's curiosity. She saw the mouse and immediately started the "he's cute, let's keep him" talk. Mind you, our kid has helped us toss mice into the snake cage many times. She is not squeamish about mice being snake food.

Well, Copper finally shed that following Thursday. So we knew he'd be very hungry come Sunday. But this little mouse had survived two days in the snake's cage and two more weeks on death row. The wife and I talked about it. This little bugger had a survivor's instinct and warrior spirit. We surmised that he just was not destined to be snake food.

Our kid was spending the night at her Aunt's house. So we guessed we'd surprise her by setting the aquarium up as a mouse habitat and keeping Marshmallow as a pet.

Almost as though he were excited about the news, Marshmallow was very active and playful that morning. My wife was excited when she gleefully squealed "he let me pet him!". So off we went to shop for our groceries, for snake food, and for mouse habitat items for Marshmallow.

We bought Copper's normal weekly meal. We also picked up a roving ball, an exercise wheel,a water bottle, some pet-quality mouse food, and a small food dish.

We are regulars at the pet store, recognized on sight by many of the employees. So, when we went to check-out the Copper Chow and had small-rodent pet supplies, the employees knew we had a tale to tell. We relayed the tale about Marshmallow clinging on for life near the heat lamp, bravely evading Copper's deadly hug and kiss for two days. They more than acknowledged that there must be something special about that little mouse. 

We were gone about 90 minutes. We put away our groceries. My wife started preparing things for Marshmallow's home. Mind you, the feeder mice were still tucked in their little carry cage. Next thing I hear is "Paul! Is something wrong with Marshmallow? Is he dead?"

I walked into the room and looked down into the aquarium. My heart skipped a beat. Mice don't sleep on their sides sprawled out like a dog sunbathing. I tapped the mouse. He didn't move. He was cold. He was quite dead.

We don't know what killed him. Maybe the food we fed him was bad for him. Maybe he chewed on the plastic plants my wife had placed in there for him to climb on. Maybe he was just so relived he had been accepted as a pet instead of regarded as just Copper Chow.

My wife looked at all the stuff we bought for him. She spoke about the money "wasted", but it wasn't the money that upset her. It was the disappointment and the heartbreak. It wasn't "break down and weep" grief. But it was a minor stinging pang of a small heartbreak. 

I warmed up his little carcass. I said a little silent prayer of praise for his warrior spirit. Then I dangled his warmed-up, lifeless body in front of Copper. Copper "fought" the lifeless corpse almost as a sign of respect, then swallowed it.

He also ate the larger mouse we bought.

The hopper now has a great set-up, the one intended for Marshmallow, the great survivor. He was first named "Smore" because he looks like Marshmallow, only slightly toasted. An hour later, his name was "Snot" because he('s not) Marshmallow. Well, his name is officially "Marshmallow Too/Two". I'd like to call him "Lucky". I also like to believe that Marshmallow, being the little warrior and survivor he was, gave his life so this one could live.

And Marshmallow, we miss you. I hope you enjoyed your last two weeks of life as part of our family.