There is no greater tragedy than that of a parent planning the funeral for their own child. Life is simply not supposed to be that way. It is a nightmare for any parent to even consider, but heartbreakingly, sometimes those nightmares become reality.

When young Aidan Pankey adopted a new pet rat, it was supposed to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Tragically, what that rat did wound up leaving the Pankeys burying their 10-year-old son. Now, their story is a must-read for any parent considering a new pet for their child.

Ten-year-old Aidan Pankey loved animals all his life. Ever since he could remember, he wanted a pet to call his own. That’s why he was so over the moon when his grandmother presented him with a surprising new gift!

While his grandmother was walking down the aisles of Petco one afternoon, she came across an animal she felt Aidan would absolutely love. She immediately made the purchase and brought it home to him…

It was a pet rat! Aidan’s grandmother bought the little guy knowing her grandson would just adore the friendly rodent. The surprise left Aidan overjoyed, and he immediately named the rat “Alex.”

Aidan and Alex were instantly inseparable. Aidan made sure to take exceptionally good care of his new friend, and he treated him like a new member of the family. They did everything together, too.

Wherever Aidan went, his trusty new pal followed right along. Aidan’s grandmother seemed to know exactly which rat to buy, too. Alex was incredibly friendly and seemed to enjoy all the activities he and Aidan did.

Aidan even took Alex along with him when he went swimming! They became the best of friends right off the bat, and Aidan’s parents and grandmother couldn’t have been happier with the new addition to their family. Plus, Aidan wasn’t the only family member to embrace Alex…

The rest of Aidan’s family loved Alex just about as much as Aidan did. Just take a look at this picture of Aidan with his father and grandfather. Alex was having a great time hanging out on Grandpa’s shoulder!

For the two weeks, the boy was nothing but smiles from morning to night. A pet like Alex was exactly what he needed in his life. However, Aidan’s family would soon realized just how dangerous this new pal actually was…

Two weeks after Aidan’s grandmother purchased Alex from Petco, Aidan fell sick. He had an upset stomach, fever, and chills. His parents took him to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with the flu. He was sent home with orders to drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest.

Even though Aidan followed the doctor’s orders, his fever rapidly grew worse throughout the night. His parents eventually rushed him to the hospital—but it was too late. Tragically, Aidan passed away shortly after arriving. What had happened to this bright-eyed boy?

As it turned out, Aidan didn’t actually have the flu at all. The boy was suffering from rat-bite fever, which he contracted from his new pet. Rat-bite fever is characterized by severe, flu-like symptoms, and it can be passed to humans through scratches or bites. In rare cases, like Aidan’s, it’s deadly.

The incident with Aidan garnered a lot of media attention. His parents decided to sue Petco—which they believed to be responsible for Aidan’s death—for $20 million in damages. Petco, however, was ready for the case.

 In a massive court case, the Pankeys’ lawyer (left) argued Petco was negligent and sold them a diseased rat. However, Petco’s lawyer (right) claimed the family were made well aware of the dangers the rat might pose before the purchase.

According to the store, anyone who buys a rat must sign a waiver acknowledging they understand it could possibly be infected with rat-bite fever. Aidan’s grandmother put her signature on the document, which meant she legally accepted the risks.

Unfortunately, the court eventually sided with Petco. The jury determined the family was well-enough informed of the dangers Alex potentially posed, and Petco was found to be not at fault for his death. The Pankey family was, understandably, devastated.

No parent should ever have to bury their child, and Aidan’s parents had to say goodbye to their son before he ever got to fully experience the wonderful life that was ahead. Aidan’s family would never forget how happy their son was for those two weeks prior to his passing.

Anyone thinking about welcoming a rodent into their homes—even one purchased at a reputable pet store—should consider the decision carefully. Rat-bite fever may be rare, but this unfortunate story is a reminder that many risks are simply not worth taking.

Aidan Pankey would always be remembered for his enthusiasm and fun-loving spirit. What happened to him after he adopted his pet rat, Alex, was completely an accident, but heartbreaking all the same.

 To learn more about Aidan’s story and the deadly signs of rat-bite fever, be sure to watch the video below. His case was an unfortunate one, but parents everywhere should take note to ensure this does not happen in their family…

The Pankeys’ story is a sad reminder that bringing an animal into your home is never a decision that should be taken lightly. Do more research than you think you should and err on the side of caution for your kids’ sake.

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