Monday, August 9, 2021

2020: Cancer & Causes, Passings & Pride

2020: Cancer & Causes, Passings & Pride

2020 was really something! As always, thank you to those who follow us on social media: FacebookTwitterInstagramTumblr. For most of all of 2020, I was working part-time and then full-time so we were less involved with things, but here is everything that happened in the world of Healing Whiskers during 2020...

Year of The Rat

Franklin the therapy rat celebrating the year of the rat

2020 was the year of the rat so we celebrated with a big giveaway! We still have some YOTR merch over in our shops: Etsy & Teespring

Guideposts: All Creatures Magazine Article Mar/Apr 2020

Vincent the therapy rat with a magazine article

In January, we were featured in an article in the magazine All Creatures. This is one of my favorite articles due to the quote '“My goal has always been just to make people happy,” she says. “If I can do it with a rat in my hand, even better.”' This article did a really good job of summarizing my journey to where I was at that time. You can read it online here.

P.O. Box

Kingston with our P.O. Box Address

We got a P.O. Box! I love getting mail and we still have this P.O. box up and running. Feel free to send us anything you'd like: letters, photo props, anything!


Franklin the Therapy Rat

We ended up getting a Patreon to showcase behind the scenes and post all those photos that don't end up being posted. You can join it today here.

Wholesome Meme

Vincent the therapy rat in a wholesome rat meme

I like to google myself every now and then (lol) and after searching for "therapy rat" I came across this meme that someone posted on Reddit. It really made my day and I feel like it is an honor for Vincent to be put into this meme format.

Color for a Cause

Franklin the Therapy Rat with colored pencils

Compassionate Paws with the winner banner for color for a cause

In March, we went to a non-profit coloring competition called Color for a Cause at Mount Berry Mall over in Rome, GA. Different non-profits have the same black and white banner that has to be colored with colored pencils and then there are judges who decide the winner. This was our second year participating (you can see our 2018 banner here)

Compassionate Paws with the big check

We ended up winning again and earned $250 for Compassionate Paws! All thanks to a great team and the help of my brother for drawing a rat, dog, and pawprint on the front.

Xavier's Health Issues and Passing

Xavier the rat with a Zymbal's Gland Tumor, or ZGT

Mid March we took Xavier to the vet after finding a large lump on the left side of his face. It looked like an abscess and was drained, but after a month is filled back up and turned out to be a Zymbal's Gland Tumor (ZGT). He started to shut down so we made the hard decision to help him pass over. 

Live Therapy Rat Visit

Abby and Franklin doing a live therapy rat visit on Facebook

At this point in late March, I was temporarily furloughed from my job due to COVID so I really wanted to do something for those stuck at home. I decided on a "Live Therapy Visit" where we do a live Q&A. It was fun and we had a decent turnout.

Paraclete Press - Meet Amazing Animal Helpers from "The Dog in the Dentist Chair"

Therapy Rat Franklin and Abby with other therapy and service animals who are in The Dog in The Dentist Chair

In late April, was invited to talk about our work with fellow therapy and service animal handlers who are featured in The Dog in The Dentist Chair. It was really fun to see everyone and promote the book!

Wyatt & Franklin's 1st Birthday

Wyatt the rat and Franklin the therapy rat's birthday

The big boys turned 1 year old in late April! They enjoyed a muffin as well as some new wood chews.

Pet Partners - National Therapy Animal Day Facebook Live

Abby and Franklin the Therapy Rat chat with other therapy animal teams

In celebration of Therapy Animal Day on April 30th, Pet Partners invited me to their Facebook Live to represent the unusual pet therapy teams. This was a lot of fun!

Online Reading Program

Franklin the Therapy Rat

I participated in an online workshop with CAREing Paws to learn how to do a reading program online through ZOOM, but we never got any participants. At this point in time in late May, I was getting ready to back to work and I couldn't guarantee my availability, so I had to cancel this program. I think it would have been really fun and maybe future rat teams can participate.

Black Lives Matter & Pride Month

Franklin the Therapy Rat and Black Lives Matter

Vincent the Therapy Rat celebrates Pride Month

In June, we posted a BLM message as well as celebrate Pride Month. We got some backlash from both surprisingly enough but that's alright. We aren't afraid to stand up for what we believe in at Healing Whiskers!


Juniper the rescue rat

When I first started working at the pet store I had a feeling I would fall in love with one of the feeder rats. For the small rats, they came to us just weaned and they were oh so stinking cute! For the longest, me and my coworkers would pick another rat instead of this one-eyed gal who ended up being there for quite some time. She came to us that way and interestingly enough in my year and a half working, there were only 3 rats in total who came to us with one eye.

One of my favorite memories was when I was cleaning the bins and this little girl decided to leave and ended up falling into a mop bucket. I knew she was special. After some convincing, in mid-June, Johnny agreed to get another little one and we named her Juniper. Our vet told us that the missing eye was due to an injury after being born. Not sure what did it, but she doesn't care!

Colosseum Escape Rooms - Skinner's Box Promo

Kingston the rat in a maze

There is a place called Colosseum Escape Rooms in Rome, GA and I was referred by a friend when they wanted a rat to help promote their new escape room, Skinner's Box. They had a video idea of a maze and for the rat to go through it. I said sure and once it was completed we went to Rome in late May to shoot the scenes. I brought Kingston and Wyatt, but Kingston really hammed it up the most and ended up getting the role. 

Black Lives Matter Sticker Fundraiser

Franklin the therapy rat with our BLM stickers

In July, I had a great collab with my brother BiccaBee to raise money for the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. We actually did this on and off during the year and ended up raising $328! This was a lot of fun and I'm super proud of our community!

Money raised for the Atlanta Solidarity Fund

I kept track of where the stickers went, and you can see we went worldwide! Super cool!

Locations where the BLM stickers were sold

Locations where the BLM stickers were sold

Locations where the BLM stickers were sold

Kingston's 1st "Caught Ya" Day

Kingston the rescue rat celebrating his caught ya day

On August 14th we celebrated Kingston's 1st "Caught Ya" Day! Here is what I posted on social media: "Happy 1st "Caught Ya" Day to Kingston! Yes, I made rat pancakes...
A year ago I caught this troublesome boy who was living in a friend of a friend's drainage pipe outside of their house. We weren't really sure how he got there, but I always assume he was a feeder rat who was released, as that happens. He was very difficult to catch and ended up being very skinny, with a broken, but already healed-up tail, and respiratory issues. His respiratory issues have been increasing as we now give him nebulizer treatments every day. He's a trooper and we love him so much!"

All Pet Voices - Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day Video

Abby talking about her memorial planter

In August, I was asked by All Pet Voices to talk about how I memorialize my pet rats once they have passed for Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day. After Xavier passed, I actually went and bought a large planter to put him in and future rats in. Because we are renting and the ground is hard clay, I figured this would be a better idea and it has been so nice to have.

Since the video, I actually bought some mums and filled the planter with them! They are still alive as I type this and I'm very proud of that!

A memorial planter filled with flowers

Franklin's Health Scare

Franklin the therapy rat has a health scare

In late August, Franklin gave us quite a scare. He was really lethargic, sucking in his sides, and not eating. He and Kingston had been neutered in July and since then their health hadn't been the best. By the evening he was back to himself, but we went to the vet the next morning just in case. They said he might have injured himself, but not entirely sure.

Jasper in Dread X Collection 2 - Another Late Night

Jasper the cowboy rat in Dread X Collection 2

In late August, I was at work and Johnny sent me a photo of a YouTube video where it showed Jasper's cowboy picture in a video game. I was a bit shocked since my watermark was cropped out and it was being used in a video game. I was a bit miffed understandably, and I took to Twitter. I tagged the developer who responded immediately and he was super nice and understanding and said he would add us to the credits.

Rat Pawprint Masks

It took us a long time, but we finally got really great quality face masks! I'm actually still using that same mask a year later and it is my favorite! You can get it here.

Suicide Awareness Month

Mother Melissa with Franklin the therapy rat

Here is what I posted on social media in mid-September: "September is Suicide Awareness Month.
I took this photo last year of Franklin with Rev. Melissa Kean at the Blessing of the Animals at St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Rev. Melissa Kean died by suicide just a few days ago.

I didn't know Melissa personally and I actually only met her this one time, but I am utterly shocked and saddened to hear of her passing.

I'm not going to sugarcoat things. This year has been tough for many people. Doesn't matter what line of work you are in or where you live. That being said, your personal struggle is not insignificant. People are going to downplay your feelings and say "everyone is struggling right now" but that shouldn't keep you from getting help.

If you are able to, get some help from a mental professional. There's also the suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255) and online chat ( If anything, do something that keeps your mind distracted, a.k.a. coping mechanisms. This could be listening to music, drawing, playing video games, watching YouTube videos, looking at memes, etc. For me personally, I watch TikTok and scroll for an hour or two.

Please please please reach out to someone if you are feeling suicidal (message our page!). You are an amazing person and deserve so much love. The world may seem dark right now, but you will survive this. You've survived this far and you are so strong. Please take care everyone "

Vincent's Cancer Diagnosis

Vincent the therapy rat gets diagnosed with cancer

In late September, we took Vincent to the vet to get a mass on his belly looked at and was told that it was an erupted malignant tumor. It was in such a bad spot that surgery would be very risky. We were given pain medicine and would call the vet when we felt it was time for him to pass over.

Kingston's Passing

Kingston the rescue rat passes away

Just a few days after Vincent's diagnosis. From our social media pages: "This week has not been very good and I'm sorry to be a bearer of bad news. We had to make a hard decision today and Kingston is no longer with us.

This morning Kingston was very lethargic and having trouble breathing. Our vet was kind enough to work us in. I'd seen similar breathing before and I knew the worst was coming. Our vet thinks that Kingston had a lot of stuff going on on top of his already bad lungs like heart problems and even bordetella.
We are taking everyone in on Monday for various checkups to make sure we have this under control. Franklin's lungs haven't been sounding too great lately and he has also lost weight since his neuter. Good news is that Vincent is doing okay for now. He had a weird reaction to his pain meds on his first dose but he is just fine in his own cage and space pod napping most of the day.
It's been really hard this week and as soon as I saw Kingston this morning I broke down. Rats love to hide their illnesses and when it's bad it can be too late. It's always when I'm tending to another sick rat that someone else creeps up and gets sick as well. 

I'm going to miss Kingston. For those new to our page, he was found in Kingston, GA outside of someone's house in their drainage pipe. I spend weeks getting him out and if it wasn't for the home owner feeding him everyday he wouldn't have made it. He was super skinny and sniffily when we got him. A healed broken tail too. He was such a lovely boy who enjoyed head massages and interacting with others.

I know Kingston is sending all his love and telling us to be strong "

Franklin's Passing

Franklin the therapy rat passes away

Another couple days after Kingston's passing. From our social media: "I do not even know what to say. Our family had another unexpected loss today.

Remember Franklin's weird episode that one day in August? It happened again last night but he didn't bounce back as well as before. Last night he was breathing rapidly, sucking in his sides, and was very lethargic. He was able to eat a little in the morning and we already had a vet appointment scheduled. We had seen the vet last Thursday and told her that Franklin was acting similar to Kingston but not as severe so we were sent antibiotics to give him over the weekend. They helped perk him up and had less lung noises so I was very hopeful until last night.
We made the hard decision during our vet visit as Franklin was having a very hard time breathing and was in generally bad health. I knew the end game would be the same and I really didn't want him to suffer any more. I told him I was so sorry over and over.

Our vet isn't too sure what is going on. Might have been a bad sinus infection or something else. Both Kingston and Franklin's health started getting worse after their neuters. It could be that underlying issues became more present or they picked something up during the visit. We are actually getting a necropsy to help answer things and help us prevent it from happening to the rest of the crew if it is something like that, but honestly it would have spread by now.

So I did bring everyone in today to get checked. Wyatt has bumblefoot (Franklin was getting it too) and there isn't any reason for it besides it being genetic. No one besides the brothers have it and the cage is clean with no wire bars except for one ramp. So we got antibiotics for him and he also needs to go on a diet and get some exercise. I'll update you on that at a later time.

Juniper was sneezy so she is going to take Franklin's leftover antibiotics. Our vet actually thinks that her lack of eye was an injury and we can look into getting that socket completely closed up after she feels a little better. But overall she is doing really well.

Vincent is hanging in there. We got some more pain medicine for him and he is very active and still going. I've told him whenever he is ready to go we will be ready, but take your time if you need to. No rush.
It's been a long week....please hug your rats and cherish the memories "

After extensive talking with our vet and looking at the necropsy there was some thought about Juniper bringing in mycoplasma. The necropsy basically said extensive respiratory illness, but no details about how it happened or why. We actually did get Juniper tested for myco and she came back negative surprisingly. Plus, we had thoughts that Kingston already had it. Our idea of what happened is that both Kingston and Franklin got bordetella (aka kennel cough in dogs) while they were under. They both got more sick after the neuters so I think this is the case. I think if I had to change anything it would be to get them neutered earlier, around 4/6 months like I did with Wyatt. Our vet said that sometimes underlying conditions come to head when they are under. So I think getting them neutered younger would have been the better bet than when they were a little over a year old.

We didn't get to do many therapy events with Franklin due to unforeseen circumstances, but the events we did were really great and I know the people we met enjoyed him. He traveled 279.5 miles for events, did 9 hours of therapy work, and met around 65 people.

Juniper's Head Tilt

Juniper the rescue rat has a head tilt

In mid October after finishing up some antibiotics for a sinus infection, Juniper started to get a head tilt. Usually this is from an ear infection, or some kind of mass, or both. Our vet found a mass behind her right ear drum and drained it. After some more antibiotics, her tilt eventually went away and we haven't had any issues since.

Second Chance Heroes Feature

Second Chance Heroes Rat Rescue

Also in mid October, Kingston (and Vincent later on) was featured in Second Chance Heroes' "Heroes in our Hearts Tribute Fund". These are donations made to their rescue in honor of a rat and we are happy to be a part of it. You can read it here.

The Illustrated Rat's Vincent Painting

A portrait of Vincent the therapy rat from Drusilla Kehl from The Illustrated Rat

I was flabbergasted and honored to receive this work of art from Drusilla Kehl from The Illustrated Rat. She did an amazing job and it still brings tears to my eyes when I see it.

Vincent the therapy rat with a portrait of himself from the illustrated rat

Vincent's Passing

Vincent the therapy rat passes away

Late October we made the hard decision to help Vincent over. Here is our social media post: 

February 2018 - October 2020
Xavier's Brother
Therapy Rat, Read With Me
Therapy Career: 97 hours, 947 people visited, traveled 2464 miles for events

Vincent went over the Rainbow Bridge yesterday morning. Saturday I noticed that his weight had decreased significantly and he had chewed the mass that was on his belly. When I got home from work on Sunday, I found Johnny crouched by the cage with Vincent. Vincent's breathing was labored and he didn't want to eat or drink. We spent the rest of the day with him and scheduled to see the vet first thing in the morning. He managed to drink some of a nutritional shake and the only thing he would eat is a yogurt drop...his special therapy visit treat.

That night, I was getting ready for bed in the bathroom and I hear the song "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long Long Time)" by Elton John playing from the bedroom. I didn't think too much about it since Johnny likes to watch TikToks before bed, but this was the whole song playing so once I was finished I went to the bedroom to see Johnny playing the music video for Vincent while he was in his space pod on the bed. No explanation needed, this was such a touching moment.

We woke up very early and made our hour-long drive to Rome listening to Elton John on the way. Vincent was very weak and dehydrated and cuddled in my arms the whole way.

I'm very thankful for the Animal Medical Center Of Rome. Our vet thinks that the cancer spread to his lungs and urinary tract. We had him on pain medicine for the longest, but there's only so much we could have done. As everything was getting ready we talked about how much of an impact Vincent made on the world. He was, no lie, the best rat I've ever had. I couldn't have asked for a better therapy partner. We were a team and he did such a great job. He changed perceptions and inspired people all over the globe. I'm so proud of him.

We knew this day was going to happen and we felt pretty prepared for it, but it was still so hard. As I'm writing this tears are still falling. I've had 7 rats euthanized in the past but this one hits differently. Granted, Oliver and I were close too, but not like me and Vincent. He was a very special boy, my buddy, and therapy partner.

I know he has touched your lives at home too. I'd love to hear any stories or see pictures you have on how this little rat has impacted you."

Kellomatic5000's One Year of Rats Project

Vincent the therapy rat in Kellomatic5000's art project

An artist on Instagram named Kellomatic5000 accomplished a really awesome project for the year 2020. Every day they drew a rat! We were honored to be a part of #157, #164, and #276! You can see all of the pieces under the #oneyearofrats.

Juniper the rescue rat in Kellomatic5000's art project

Vincent the therapy rat in Kellomatic5000's art project


Abby and Vincent the therapy rat looking at their accomplishments
Abby and Vincent looking at his accomplishments before heading to the vet.

So many things in combination made me realize that I was ready to put up my therapy rat hat, at least for now. I'm one of those people who loves to master something and then I'm ready for something new. Ready for a new adventure. I felt like I got to this point once Franklin became a therapy rat, but definitely felt it earlier than that. And it isn't just doing therapy work with rats, it is keeping rats all together. I've flip-flopped with it, but at this point at the end of 2020 I told myself I wasn't getting anymore rats. I've done a lot, but I'm ready for something new. 

I'm still working on getting resources out there for those who want to do therapy work and I am always available through email (healingwhiskers for those who have questions. 

What is your favorite 2020 moment?
Let us know in the comments!

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