Community Submission: Rotifer the Rat, A true story

by Judith Liggett

The beginning of Rotifer’s life was inauspicious. As a matter of fact, the first time Carol met him, he was being held by the tail pursuant to being flushed down the toilet. This was not because Rotifer was a research rat. He had been bought by the manufacturer of the copper enamel ash trays for Columbia Pictures, AnneMarie Davidson. She owned a pet boa constrictor and white rats were its only food. A minute prior, Rotifer was a baby white rat destined to be food for the boa constrictor. That day, by his great good fortune, Rotifer was not palatable to the boa constrictor, and AnneMarie was in the process of getting rid of him.

“STOP! Don’t, please don’t do that!” Carol exclaimed with all her compassionate heart. “Give him to me. I’ll take him. I want to give this little white rat to my daughter, Laurie!” Now, Carol had worked 10 years as a designer for Columbia pictures in Hollywood and was an unusual and artistic person. She proudly left her associate’s home with the white rat in her pocket. By the time she reached home, the baby rat had a name: Rotifer.

For 13 years Rotifer flourished with Carol and had a domicile he could leave or return to at any time. Such an arrangement was necessary, as Carol also owned three large Weimaraner dogs in great health who would have loved to kill a little white rat.

Rotifer neared the entrance of his cage cautiously, sniffing all around and scanning the room from one end to the other. Finally, after these minute preparations assuring the dogs were nowhere near, he would emerge from his cage and skitter along the floor to where Carol was sitting. Carol would be reading or sewing and would feel little tugs at the hem of her pants. Intuitively she knew this was Rotifer who was asking her to “go bye-bye.” She would bend down, scoop him up and put him on her shoulder. Together they would dance to her 1955 red Thunderbird and spin down the palm-tree lined streets, top down. As you can imagine, Rotifer was quite a sight to anyone who caught a glimpse, especially since Carol would remove an earring and for balance, Rotifer would hold on to her earlobe. In social situations, Rotifer was the star of the show.

You may be wondering why the artist who painted Rotifer, Walter Calkins, put a strawberry in the picture. The truth was, Calkins didn’t even like rats, but for Carol, he would do anything. Surprisingly, strawberries, in those days, the 1950s, were a rare and gourmet treat and were bought for 50 cents each at Jergensen’s. Rotifer, white fur with pink accents, looked glam going after a strawberry.

Thirteen years is a long time for a rat to live. Toward the end of his life, Carol frequently took Rotifer to the veterinarian who gave him extra respiratory support. But, as nature intended, the last day finally came.

After living in San Marino, California, Carol and her husband, Bill, moved to Montana where Carol was a professional designer and natural foods store owner. After forty years in Montana, Carol moved to Edgewood Downs in Beaverton, Oregon, to be near her daughter.

The memory of Rotifer remains dear to her, for theirs was a relationship of the heart, Rotifer knowing Carol saved his life, and Carol enjoying a warm, furry companionship. Rotifer’s picture hangs by the entry of Carol’s room and another painting of Rotifer hangs perhaps dangerously close to an original painting of Shadow, one of Carol’s prized Weimaraner dogs.

Judith Liggett moved from Los Angeles in March 2017, and is thrilled to live in Beaverton, especially because of the flowers, trees, and interesting people.