Of Rats and Jen

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

Stumbling Along

Filed under: Daily Life,Gryphon,Knitting,Rats! — folkcat at 7:52 pm on Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I finished the socks I’ve been working on.

The yarn is…actually, I forget the name. It’s that fairly inexpensive one with aloe in it that started showing up last year. On Your Toes, maybe? This colorway is called “Beach Print”.

Those who get picky about details may notice that the color sequence runs in opposite directions on the two socks. I had started these as lace-patterned socks, then frogged and began again as my plain vanilla k2p2 basics. In the course of frogging that first sock, the direction of that half of the yarn got reversed. Since I’m not concerned about my socks being matchy-matchy, I left it. I like how they came out.

I began my increases for my heel and ankle earlier on the foot – at only 4.5 inches from the tip of the toe, in fact. These are the best fitting socks I’ve made yet, so clearly, I’m doing something right.

In other news, I wish I could report that all is better. Truth is, a lot of the financial stuff is hitting the fan, big time. We’re going to be visiting various government offices in the next several days – and have already visited a few this week – with the goal of putting some of our past tax dollars to work for us. If you get my drift.

Because things are so tight, I’m going to have to stop going to Panera on Thursday nights for the foreseeable future. We just can’t afford the gas expense of driving anywhere that isn’t absolutely essential, nor can we justify the cost of eating at even a mildly priced restaurant. Anyone who reads this and wants to continue the Thursday night tradition without me, please do so! I’ll be back when I can, I just don’t know when that will be.

Gryphon’s health is improving, but it’s slow and unsteady progress. But there’s no denying that there is progress, so that’s good. Beyond that I really can’t say much except that he’s not back at work yet, and we’re still not sure when he will be.

He’s making good use of his recovery time at home, though. Gryphon has always been a whiz at homemade pizza, having worked at a pizza shop many years ago. This weekend, he tackled making a quiche for the first time – and boy howdy, that was tasty! He did it again last night (those refrigerated pie crusts come two in a package, after all), and as far as I’m concerned, he can make quiche any time he wants, I’ll be happy to eat it.

Nothing new to report about the ratties. I know I’ve left you hanging on the Gabby and A.J. story, but with the way things are in our life right now, that’s turning out to be a very difficult story to tell. These girls are about as tough a pair of ratties as I’ve ever seen, and the trust training they’re going through is a brand-new, stumble-and-trip as we try to figure it out, different sort of process for me and Gryphon. We’ve way out of our element here, and trying to work together to see that we do right by them.

I’ll be sure to tell you what I can, when I can.

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…

The No Title Post

Filed under: Daily Life,Rats! — folkcat at 5:30 pm on Friday, October 17, 2008

Hi, all. Things continue to be stressful here, which is why you don’t hear more from me. There is change happening, however, and it’s ultimately for the better.

Gryphon’s health is on the mend. The key seems to have been a medication, the dosage of which had been increased, but which was causing some fairly serious side effects. As in, bad enough we couldn’t trust him to drive, and certainly not to go to a job where he works on heavy machinery. He’s been taken off the medication now, however, and even though it’s only been three days, we are seeing a huge improvement. We expect to see him back at work at the start of November.

Meanwhile, that leaves us financially strapped, since he didn’t have enough regular leave to cover the time he’s missing. We’re pulling together various resources, including a federal medical leave, to cover the gaps as best we can. Right now, Gryphon’s two jobs are first, getting better, and second, filling out forms and such to acquire what assistance we can from assorted agencies. We’ll be okay – it’s just a fair bit of a different sort of work to make it all happen.

Ralph and Norton turned 9 weeks old on Thursday. This Sunday, we deliver them to their new family. Yes, they’ve been adopted! We’ll miss the little buggers, but I’m so glad they’re going to a good home. Yay!

Our new foster girls, Gabby and A.J., are in the house. I may not talk about them a lot for a bit – it turns out that their socialization has been so badly neglected that we’re having to use intensive measures to re-train them to trust humans. It’s hard work, but we’re already seeing a small measure of progress. It’s my hope that before long, they’ll be okay with letting people pick them up and handle them.

As for me, I’ve continued working on my latest pair of socks. I’m actually within two inches of finishing the second one. Maybe I’ll post a picture next week.

That’s about all for now. I hope you all have a good weekend!

Ralph and Norton, More Handsome Every Day

Filed under: Mainely Rat Rescue,Rats! — folkcat at 4:02 pm on Thursday, October 9, 2008

I know I’ve been absent, but we’re having a difficult time here. Gryphon has been ill, and the doctors are still trying to sort out what’s wrong. He’s been out of work. This has also put us in financial difficulty, so what energy doesn’t get devoted to doctors’ appointments winds up on putting out budgetary fires.

Aside from all that drama, life plods on.

Perma-Ratties

There is little new to report with the Perma-Ratties. They continue to be cute and cuddly. Lily and Laurel are simply part of the crowd now. I’m beginning to think I should have named them Shasta and Faygo, though, they’re so fizzy and pop-able.

Lola shows some signs of slowing down. At age 1 year, 10 months, she’s earned the right. She appreciates it when we take her out of the cage for cuddle time without the young girls. On the other hand, she does keep pace with them well, making sure they know who’s the Queen Mother of the cage.

We tried something out a couple of weeks ago – giving all the rats hard-boiled eggs. They were popular with everyone, Perma-Ratties and Fosters alike. I tried to get pictures, but only managed one or two of the girls.

Lily and Laurel were content to share.


Laurel (l) and Lily, and the Egg

Lola knew the best way to keep the young’uns away from her portion was to go into a corner and turn her back on them. When you turn your back, you see, the other ratties don’t know you’re there.


Lola and the Egg – We’re Not Here

Foster Ratties

Ralph and Norton are eight weeks old today – can you believe it? They grow more handsome every day, and more cuddly. They are so eager for human contact that they plaster themselves to the cage wall nearest you almost every time you walk by.

Of course, if Ralph is sleeping in the hammock – and Ralph is almost always sleeping in the hammock – he doesn’t rush to judgment about reality just because footsteps come near. He will lift his head ever so slightly, and take a peek to see if it’s worth the effort to get out of bed.


What’s for breakfast?

Once they agree that good things are happening, Ralph and Norton both come running. A current favorite game is In & Out. To play, you simply climb in and out of the door. Repeatedly. The only rule seems to be that if you’re out, you’re supposed to run in, and vice-versa.

I’m not sure how you decide who wins.


Ralph comes out, while Norton runs in

When you’ve done the In & Out thing enough, the Out path gets extended to climbing on the nearest human. Once there, apparently, you’re still supposed to keep moving. Any appearance of stillness in these photos is a momentary illusion.


Ralph Looks Sweet

And you can see the fanciful curlicue whiskers he gets from his Rex genes. Norton, on the other hand…


Norton’s Amazing Long Whiskers

…Norton has long, straight, luxurious whiskers.

Ralph and Norton are friendly, curious, cuddly boys, who love attention and crave human contact.

Snuggle Time for Ralph and Norton
And They Love Each Other, Too.

Future Fosters

We’re likely to be getting a pair of girls this week, from the Mainely Rat Rescue shelter in Maine. Gabby and A.J. – I think that’s who we’ve been assigned – need some socializing. We’re told they don’t bite, but are not used to being picked up and handled, and they’re shy. So they need to be taught about the good things that come when you let humans into your circle. I think we can do that!