Of Rats and Jen (Inactive)

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

Meet the Babies!

Filed under: Mainely Rat Rescue,Rats! — folkcat at 4:11 pm on Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Here they are – just about nine hours old!

Eight healthy, squeaky little eepers total. The first arrived at 3:32 a.m. The last, a little under 2 hours later.

No guess as to genders yet. The differences are extremely subtle at this age, and Gryphon and I don’t have trained eyes for it yet.

All have light colored eyes, which hints that they will all be beige, with no idea of what their markings will be yet. A full litter of blondes, just like Mom & Dad!

Brynn is doing well. She’s lively and eager for attention again this morning, and has even let us take her out of the cage for brief snuggles. She is comfortable with us reaching into the cage, and even poking gently around the nest.

We obviously acclimated her well to our presence before the babies arrived. In fact, she is so comfortable here that she refused to nest in the little hut, instead preferring to build her paper pile out in the open. We’ve taken the hut out altogether now to make room in the cage – we can always add it back later if she seems to need it.

Brynn is a good mother. She handled the birth like a pro, and is very attentive to the needs of the babes. To see that, and still have the mother affectionate and eager for attention from humans, is pretty astonishing.

I did get some video during the birth, but I have yet to have time to look at the footage and see if it shows anything worth sharing. I’ll be sure to post it if it’s good.

And here’s your parting shot – Brynn and some of the babies, during the middle of the process last night. Mom took every chance she could to collapse, exhausted, and rest up for the next arrival.

Brynn Baby Watch, Over – Brynn Baby Watching, Begun!

Could Be For Real This Time

Filed under: Mainely Rat Rescue,Rats! — folkcat at 3:24 am on Tuesday, December 30, 2008

This was the scene about four hours ago:

Brynn began enthusiastically gathering the paper towels and tissues we’d given her, making a poufy ring of soft stuff.

This is the scene right now, 2:20 a.m. Eastern time:

Brynn has settled in on her side. When we come to look in on her, she barely lifts her head to acknowledge our presence. Before, she would be climbing the walls to get our attention.

This really could be it!

The Folkcat & Gryphon Home for Wayward Teen Ratgirls

Filed under: Mainely Rat Rescue,Rats! — folkcat at 3:38 pm on Saturday, December 27, 2008

BRYNN BABY WATCH, DAY ONE

This is the face of teen pregnancy.

Say “Hello!” to Brynn. At best guess, she’s all of about 3 months old. Maybe a little more. Since rats aren’t considered fully mature until they’re around 6 months old, that makes Brynn a teenager.

Brynn and her sisters had a dalliance with a boy, and all three wound up pregnant. They’re babies having babies. MRR asked us to step in and foster one of the moms, and raise the litter.

That’s how Brynn wound up coming home with us last night. She’s set up in a little cage of her own, right near the Seven Little Ratties and their castle. Everyone can see each other, and there’s been much hovering at the nearest cage walls and staring. I think it’s actually comforting to Brynn to have other rats nearby, since her short life has mainly been spent in the company of her sisters. With her pregnancy, she’s suddenly been thrown into relative isolation.

Unlike our previous foster mom, Net-Net, Brynn is turning out to be an absolutely friendly, social, darling. Within minutes of arriving home, she had already been out on my shoulder. By the end of the first evening, she had given me the ultimate sign of Rattie approval – she peed on my arm. Either that, or she wanted to make sure she could find her way back down to the cage. I’ll take either one.

Today, she voluntarily comes out of the cage for skritches and snuggles, and she doesn’t squabble at all if we reach in and pick her up. This promises to be a very different experience. Plus, we get to see it complete, from before the arrival of the babies. And you get to come along for the ride!

Brynn is due any day now. We don’t have an exact date for when she conceived, and rat pregnancies last about 3 weeks. She and her sisters did have their bellies get visibly large last Monday, which is usually a sign that we’re getting close. So far, though, she’s holding the babies in. I think we may have a few more days, she hasn’t even started building a nest from the paper towels in her cage yet.

BRYNN BABY WATCH, DAY ONE – STILL WAITING!

Room at the Inn

Filed under: Mainely Rat Rescue,Rats! — folkcat at 6:51 pm on Thursday, December 25, 2008

Everyone, please meet Brynn:

All belly, isn’t she? There’s a good reason for that. Brynn, along with two of her sisters, is pregnant, and due to drop the babies any minute now. It seems that the three girls, quite accidentally, got to spend an entire hour with a boy. Clearly, that was enough time to cause a lot of trouble!

Since they’re all foster rats with Mainely Rat Rescue, this set off a scramble to find foster homes that could deal with raising surprise litters. Gryphon and I have offered to take Brynn. We’ll be picking her up tomorrow. Whether she’s the only rat we’ll pick up tomorrow depends on how long her belly can hold those babies in!

Yes, yes – you can expect blind baby ratlet pictures! Just give me a few days to get them home and settled in!

Merry Christmas!

Shhhhh!

Filed under: Holidays,Mainely Rat Rescue,Rats! — folkcat at 4:51 pm on Saturday, December 6, 2008

Don’t tell the kids, but we picked up an early Christmas present for them today!

Yes, it’s really that big. And it will actually fit in the corner of the living room where we traditionally keep our rat cages.

And no, we didn’t have to lay out any money for it. Mainely Rat Rescue has us signed on as a regular, ongoing foster home now, in exchange for which we get the loan of this amazingly awesome Ferret Nation cage. Sounds like a fair deal to me!

Gryphon and I need to do a little cleaning, then outfit it with hammocks, a Wodent Wheel, and all sorts of hidey-holes, nests, and places to climb and crawl. The Seven Little Ratties will move in sometime later tonight or tomorrow.

Here’s the frightening part – this cage is actually big enough to hold twelve rats.

Yeah.

We’re going to try not to use its full capacity. But it’s nice to know that, if rats that belong with us come our way, we’ll have the space to accommodate them.

Many, many thanks to Kim at Mainely Rat Rescue for offering us this opportunity. We feel like we’ve had a nice Christmas gift here, not just for the Ratties, but for ourselves, too. Once we’ve established the Perma-Ratties in this cage, their existing cage will be available for our next fosters, whoever they may be.

And don’t worry – I’ll get pictures of the gang exploring their new home, I promise!

The Seven Little Ratties

Filed under: Mainely Rat Rescue,Rats! — folkcat at 8:03 pm on Thursday, December 4, 2008

Laura and Trixie, former foster daughters up to the point where they were four and a half weeks old, came home with us Monday night. Time elapsed between the intial e-mail and collecting them from their adoptive parents was only about eight hours.

It’s a sad situation. The woman who adopted them planned well, worked with her boyfriend to make an excellent cage and everything, took care of them right. What she couldn’t anticipate was that her sister is allergic to them.

The girls were moved out to the boyfriend’s apartment – a dicey proposition at best, because he’s not allowed to have pets. As if that weren’t bad enough, then he turned out to be allergic.

Not sure where else to turn, they went back to Mainely Rat Rescue. The MRR coordinator knew we didn’t have any fosters currently, and that it could be really good to get them back to a familiar home, so she contacted us.

Gryphon and I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Connections were made with the adopters, and we collected them the same night.

Sending them to a familiar home was a good idea. They are well socialized, and the smells of our apartment were probably so familiar, that less than five minutes after arriving they were sitting on my shoulder, munching on cereal flakes.


Trixie poses for the camera; Laura shows her tail.

We kept the girls in the cage they came with, one that the adopters had built from scratch for them. (They did an excellent job!) Laura and Trixie settled in quickly, and were immediately comfortable coming out for cuddle sessions.

Meanwhile, Gryphon and I had already sort of decided we wanted to keep the girls. We always regretted that we couldn’t justify keeping a pair from this litter when we had them the first time, so it felt a bit like destiny that Laura and Trixie came back to us. The adopters told of how Trixie sulked when they had to move them to the boyfriend’s apartment, too, because she missed their people. Gryphon and I agreed that it would be nice to keep them from further home-hopping, and just keep them with us.

Since their cage sat next to our main cage, I was able to observe how the rats in each cage reacted to each other. There was much curious peeking, but no dominance behaviors that I could detect. Wednesday night, I decided I was comfortable trying to make introductions.

I had learned of a technique where you simply put all the rats in question into a large carrier together. And leave them there. Just leave them. Some people recommend all day long. Other suggestions include taking them for a drive in the car, taking them for a walk, anything that makes for a strange situation for all of them together.

Since I was inspired late at night, I simply put them in the carrier and left it on the floor by my chair while I continued knitting and watching television.

It worked. There was much milling around. Some minor interactions that caused a few squeaks. Mostly, though, everyone just anxiously puttered around the carrier until they finally huddled in a mass in one corner.


All Seven in one picture. Identifying individual rats is left as an exercise for the reader. Click to embiggen.

After an hour, we decided we were good to go. We did some straightening of the franken-cage, changed out a couple of hammocks, and added Laura and Trixie’s litter-box. (Oh, yeah – their adoptive family did so well with them they’re litter-trained! Maybe they can teach the rest a thing or two!) Refresh the food, add the Ratties, and *poof*. All seven Ratties living in one happy family.

Well, mostly happy. Lola, elderly matriarch that she is, spent a lot of time posturing and boxing with Laura, who apparently comes across as the most threatening of the two new girls. They never got serious, though, and by this morning, Lola had begrudgingly accepted that the new kids are warm, fuzzy, and good enough to sleep with.

Everyone else was soundly sleeping when I took this next picture, but Laura and Trixie were up and about wondering what Mom was up to. As you can see, Laura loves the camera!


Extreme Close-Up for Laura! Trixie looks on shyly from behind.

So, now we are nine – Gryphon, me, and seven Ratties. Five of which have “L” names, and I swear that was accidental! In order, from oldest to youngest, they are: Lola, Leonardo, Yuri, Lily, Laurel, Laura, and Trixie.

But wait – doesn’t the franken-cage only hold five? Well, yes. Seven rats will be okay in there for a few days. We can’t afford to buy anything much right now, but sometimes life hands you what you need, and within a few days we’re hoping to have a rather larger cage to house the Perma-Ratties in together. Our obligation in return is to continue fostering other rats on a regular basis, something we’re more than happy to do anyhow.

Sometimes, parts of your life just work out right. Two of our girls came home, not just for the holidays, but for good. Karma contrives to bring us the means to keep them, and to help other ratties as well.

I can live with that!

Prodigal Daughters?

Filed under: Mainely Rat Rescue,Rats! — folkcat at 4:08 pm on Monday, December 1, 2008

Prepare the fatted grains! It looks like two of our foster babies from Net-Net’s litter are coming back to us.

Laura and Trixie were adopted by a woman in Massachusetts, but it turned out her younger sister is allergic to rats. They moved the girls to the boyfriend’s apartment – where not only is he not allowed to keep pets, but he turned out to be allergic, too.

Luckily, they got in touch with Mainely Rat Rescue about surrendering the girls back to the source. MRR, knowing we have a history with the girls and that they’re not a socialization problem, asked if we’d take them back to foster.

We immediately said yes. Arrangements are being made, and we’ll probably pick them up tonight.

I’m sad for the folks who adopted them – it’s always an unhappy thing to try to bring animals into your life, only to learn that they make you sick. On the other hand, I’m pleased to see two of “our girls” come home for Christmas.

Updates and pictures to come when I have them!

The Good, The Bad, and The Vague

Filed under: Daily Life,Gryphon,Mainely Rat Rescue,Rats! — folkcat at 5:19 pm on Friday, November 14, 2008

The Good News: We actually have some results on Gryphon’s health that give a clue what’s wrong with him. Further tests are being done to confirm and to define the parameters, but at least we know something now.

The Bad News: If this is what we seem to think it is, the implications are life-changing. While we don’t have an official diagnosis yet, and can’t be sure it’s as bad as we fear, we’re still very shaken as we try to process the information.

The Vague: All of the above, for several reasons. It’s too soon to say anything for sure, it’s Gryphon’s story, not just mine, and we just don’t know if putting out too much detail at this point could hamper future issues or not. I promise that you will know more when we have something we can say. Maybe I’ll even convince Gryphon to write a guest post.

On a Happier Note: Our foster girls go to their new home tomorrow, where the foster parent has previous experience with rats that bite.

Meanwhile, it’s good to know that our Perma-Ratties love us and miss us when we’re gone. Here was the scene I found when we came home from grocery shopping this afternoon:


Clockwise from top left – Lily, Laurel, and Lola

The three girls heard us come in the house, and in their excitement they simply piled on top of each other as they each tried to be the one closest to me in the corner of the cage. Poor Lola got to be the bottom of the pile. (The focus is part of the “Vague” section of this post, because I took this picture with my phone.)

Where were Yuri and Leo while this was happening? They’re boys, and therefore too cool for such a display of emotion. So they stayed in their nap spots and pretended to pay no attention. Now, if I’d had treats in my hands, I’m sure it would have been a completely different story.

Final Note: Many thanks to all who have offered their support and encouragement in comments and e-mails. It means a lot to us to know that we have such good friends out there. My sincere apologies to anyone I have failed to respond to – and I suspect there are at least a couple of you. My only excuse is that my head has been as addled as ever as we try to deal with current reality.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Sometimes Stories Change While You’re Telling Them

Filed under: Mainely Rat Rescue,Rats! — folkcat at 4:53 pm on Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Gryphon and I voted. There were no lines at Wilton Town Hall at 1 p.m., and we were in and out in about 5 minutes. And that’s all there is to say about that.

I know I’ve left you all hanging with the story of Gabby and A.J. That’s because the story I thought I was going to be telling isn’t what has wound up happening after all.

The next thing after Gabby challenged me with her dominance dance – which is where I left you at “To Be Continued” – I decided that I clearly wasn’t being proactive enough about establishing my place in the hierarchy. So I reached into the cage to pick her up.

She whipped her head around and bit me on the left index finger. I yelped, dropped her back on the cage floor, and slammed the door shut.

As I bled into a tissue before getting the finger bandaged, I was very upset. Not another biter, I thought. I can’t deal with another biter. I e-mailed the folks at Mainely Rat Rescue for advice.

I also spent time researching while I waited for an answer. I found some sites that talked about something called “trust training” that was said to be helpful with biting rats. It seemed promising, so I proposed it to the MRR folks. We all agreed it was worth a try.

The essential concept of trust training is that the rat has to come to depend on you for everything. All food is removed from the cage. The cage is left as uninteresting as possible – nothing to do, nothing to hide in, no place to declare as a center of personal rattie power. Water is kept in the cage. All nutrition otherwise is offered by hand from a spoon.

If that sounds like a lot of work, well – it is. We tried it at first with the normal foods we offer all our ratties – a mix of rolled grains, fresh produce, that sort of thing. It seemed to work. Gabby and A.J. learned to come to the spoon and take their food. With the grains, they even sat right at the cage door, taking bits from the spoon.

I started introducing some touching, lightly touching my fingertip to the top of the head, that sort of thing. After a few days, I was even able to cup my hand over their backs and hold it there.

Still, it didn’t seem like they were any more trusting, really. Reach into the cage, and they still tried to bite. Especially Gabby.

Meanwhile, I was very upset about the process. It felt to me like we were torturing them. They spent their days curled up in the bedding at the bottom of their cage, not looking at all like happy rats.

Dissatisfied with our lack of progress, I studied some more. That’s when I learned that you need to be working with foods that can’t be taken from the spoon and carried away, even a small distance. The spoon feeding must be done with baby foods, yogurt, things of that nature.

I also felt that they were still feeling a bit aggressive about the cage. They came to us with a tall cage with multiple levels and some high spots for nesting, and once they accepted the lack of a hut to crawl into, they took to using a basket up in the highest corner as their spot. This put them above my eye level most of the time.

After further consultation with MRR, we moved them into a single level cage, and switched off to feeding them baby food. They became extremely aggressive about licking the spoon, sometimes almost reaching to bite you if you didn’t refill it fast enough.

It also took a great deal of time and attention to do this. Gryphon and I have been having a rough time of things lately, with his health, my health, and our financial crisis. Adding the intensive work of trust training on top of all that was becoming too much to deal with, especially when we couldn’t see any progress.

I finally told Gryphon that we just had to make a change here. I couldn’t handle the trust training, and neither could he. I missed having joyful playtime with our Perma-Ratties, since we’d had to move their cage away from my chair to make the trust training work. I was finding no joy in how the work with Gabby and A.J. was going.

We were out of our depth, and didn’t feel that we could do this work properly with so much else going on that needs our immediate attention.

We wrote to MRR, and asked permission to discontinue the trust training, and to merely do our best to take care of the foster girls without attempting to socialize them further.

MRR agreed. And that’s where we are now. Gabby and A.J. will have a home with us until MRR can find one that has the ability to give them the training they need. In the meantime, we are feeding them well and freely again, they have a wheel to run in (and are the first ratties we’ve ever had in the house who actually use it as intended!), and they are getting quiet and fond care from us, without physically interacting with them. (I did make a mistake of reaching my hand in several days after this change, and Gabby is still aggressive enough that she nailed me again, this time on the right index finger. *sigh* Will I ever learn? The biting score: Foster Rats 7, Jen 0.)

Part of me feels like we’ve failed these girls. A larger part of me, however, knows that we made our best effort, but got overwhelmed by circumstances that have nothing to do with the foster rats. And we made the smart move of both seeing that we weren’t up to the task, and making sure the rescue knows what’s going on and can take appropriate action.

There’s no telling how long Gabby and A.J. will stay with us. We’ll take care of them as long as needed. We just won’t be cuddling them any time soon, I guess.

And that’s how the story of Gabby and A.J. that I began telling has wound up. It was meant to be a helpful and instructive tale about gaining the trust of two unsocialized rats, and teaching that humans are good and not to be bitten. Instead, it’s the story of how large a task that is, and how Gryphon and I aren’t able to handle it at this time.

The Perma-Ratties moved back to their proper place by my chair the instant we decided we couldn’t deal with the trust training, and Gabby and A.J. moved to a table across the room. The entire Rattie colony celebrated by immediately coming out onto my lap and running all over the place, with Lola settling in for a nice long cuddle and head skritching.

It felt very good.

Gabby and A.J. – Part One

Filed under: Mainely Rat Rescue,Rats! — folkcat at 2:59 pm on Friday, October 24, 2008

I mentioned in my last post that I wasn’t going to write much about the socialization process for the new foster girls, Gabby and A.J. I have been keeping the folks at Mainely Rat Rescue up to date on their progress, however, and they’ve asked me to keep a journal about the experience so it can be used as a teaching tool.

Gabby and A.J. are sisters, and about a year old. That puts them in the large group of rats that spurred the formation of Mainely Rat Rescue in the fall of 2007. Our own Yuri and Leonardo also came from that group. Gabby is a black varieberk with a standard coat, and A.J. is a black hooded rex. Both have standard ears. They are petite rats, but full grown.


A.J. (top) and Gabby huddle together.

When these girls were handed to me in their carrier on October 10th, they were cowered together in the back. It’s my understanding that they haven’t been handled, so finding them this timid was no surprise. My assignment, after all, is to socialize them, teach them to become accustomed to being handled by people. I carried them on my lap on the trip home, talking to them gently and keeping an eye on their mood and behavior.

By the time we were nearing Wilton, they were moving around the carrier a little, and even poking their noses out of the holes to sniff at fingers. A good sign, I thought.

We set up their cage and transferred them to it. They were docile, still scared, and didn’t struggle. To make them feel safe, we added a hammock and a plastic hut to the cage, places they could hide and feel secure from the dangerous world.

Their cage was placed in the same room with our other rats, the five Perma-Ratties in their cage by my chair, and Ralph and Norton, the foster boys, in a cage on a table by the door. Gabby and A.J.’s cage sat between them. For the first couple of days, we fed them and talked to them, but otherwise left the girls alone so they could adjust to their new surroundings.

I realized almost immediately that these girls looked very familiar, and so I asked in an e-mail: are they related to Net-Net, the foster mother we’d taken in for a time? The answer didn’t surprise me – in fact, they are Net-Net’s first cousins, and therefore first-cousins-once-removed to Ralph and Norton. Our fostering so far has been all in the family! I only hoped that their fear wouldn’t translate into biting, as it had with Net-Net. Gabby especially strongly resembles her cousin, and she’s the bolder rat of the two.

Gabby and A.J. came home on a Friday. By Monday, we had decided to give them more of a chance to get to know me. We swapped the positions of their cage and the Perma-Ratties. The foster girls were now placed beside my chair, literally at my elbow most of the day as I sit knitting. Lola and the gang weren’t happy to see their access to me made more difficult, but we made a point of paying attention to them to make up for it.

Over the first weekend, I made one attempt at beginning to work with the girls. There’s a technique for socializing rats called Forced Socialization. What you do is simple – hold the timid rat for twenty continuous minutes. They can squirm, wriggle, even run all over your lap, so long as you keep in contact with them. There is anecdotal evidence that this technique can even work to gentle a feral ship rat in a very short time.

I gave this a try with Gabby on that first Sunday. I put an afghan on my lap, and picked her up from the cage. Settling her on the blanket, I let her roam around, always keeping my hand in contact with her.

We lasted ten minutes before she reached for my hand with her teeth. Not a bite, just a message. But still, shades of cousin Net-Net, who had managed to bite me five times before she finally went home to her owner. I admit I flinched – who wouldn’t? Gabby was quickly but gently put back in the cage. I resolved to give her a little more time before I tried that again.

For some reason, placing the foster girls’ cage to the left of the Perma-Ratties’ cage caused Gabby to feel aggressive towards Lola and company. It’s hard to say why that should be – the distance between cages is the same, just the positions were swapped. Was it because the Perma-Ratties’ cage was now closer to the end of the fosters’ cage where the plastic hut was placed?

Now and then, Gabby would go to the corner of the cage closest to the Perma-Ratties, and perform what I came to call a Dominance Dance. She would stomp her feet and make grunting noises in the direction of the feared “intruders”, and lunge at the wires of the cage towards them.

Okay, I thought – that’s just something ratties do when they’re establishing their place in the colony, figuring out the hierarchy. It will settle down as time passes.

Then, on Wednesday morning, Gabby stood outside the door of their little plastic hut, and performed the Dominance Dance again. Only this time, I was clearly the target.

To Be Continued…

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