Of Rats and Jen

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

Ralph and Norton Say “Ello!”

Filed under: Rats! — folkcat at 6:40 pm on Sunday, November 23, 2008

I’ve been meaning to get to this for a couple of days. On Wednesday this past week, I heard from Amanda and Kathleen, the women who adopted our boys Ralph and Norton. Amanda kindly gave me permission to share Ralph and Norton’s continuing story with you. Amanda, I hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty of borrowing a couple of your photos as well:

Hello!

I just wanted to update you both on how Ralph and Norton have been doing this past month. When they first got home, they settled into a shoe box for a while and just slept on their blankets, but eventually they got adventurous and explored all around the cage. A small igloo came with their cage (we’re getting them a bigger one for Christmas, though shoe and tissue boxes seem to be wonderful substitutes) and it was actually quite comical to watch them both tussle over who could be in the igloo. They never actually fought over it, but the politics were definitely there. Norton would steal treats to eat them in the igloo and the second he’d leave for another treat, Ralph would sneak in his place and stay there. They tried for at least two weeks to fit both of them into the itty bitty igloo (even though OTHER, LARGER hiding spots were readily available) until they established that they were just too big and only one used it at a time from then on. It was hysterical for a time though. Now, they’ll sleep a tissue box together, or on one of their hammocks. Norton is a particularly big fan of the top hammock (it’s about 12in x 20in long) and he’ll stretch as much as possible to take up space so Ralph can’t fit when he wants it to himself.

Ralph and Norton
“Mom! Make Ralph share!”

As far as personalities go, they have really blossomed in the past few weeks since we’ve had them. Ralph has turned into a real lover. Ralph is usually the first to the door, the first to come out and the most tolerant of being molded around while I check them for injuries/tumors/etc. every day, though when it comes to cutting his claws, he squeaks like I’m killing him. He doesn’t struggle much, just complains. He is often clinging to the door the moment we make any indication of walking towards the cage, or is at least hovering near
it and watching us with his big ruby eyes. Whatever we’re doing, he wants to be there too. He’ll sit up on our shoulders for hours, or tuck himself under our hoodies/shirts just below our chins for a time while we do homework/play on the computer/watch tv. And it isn’t just us, either. He just seems like a real people-oriented rat. He loves visitors and is always interested in sniffing everything. His favorite treats are peas, oats, yogurt and baby corn. His rex fur has grown in to look all messy now, and it is quite endearing. Lately, he’s starting to become even more mushy. He’ll brux on our shoulders and in our laps and lavish our fingers with kisses.

Norton, on the other hand, is a very squishy, lazy boy. He doesn’t come to the door right away when we open it, but rather waits to see if it is worth moving first. Most of the time he’s curled up on the hammock napping when we come over and he’ll turn and extend his head to the side closest to us to acknowledge our presence. He LOVES head brushes and cheek scratches. The moment I reach in and start petting him, he’ll start to brux and boggle like mad. If I keep doing it, he’ll eventually roll on his side for us to pet his belly and fall asleep. It’s really cute. Usually after a few minutes though, he’ll get curious as to what Ralph is doing and will stretch/yawn and slink his way out of the cage. They popcorn all over for about 5-10 minutes before they actually commit to coming out of the cage again once Norton is up. Ralph gets really excited and will run in and out with him until they decide they want to explore. Norton is a little less thrilled about being restrained as I examine him, but he tolerates me. He’s also turning into quite the shoulder rat. Once he decides he wants to be out, he has no qualms about running up arms, legs and bellies to get to our shoulders. He’s even daring enough to scale thin ledges and to grip into my jeans when I’m standing if it means he can get there. He’ll super jealous and wants whatever Ralph has, but he’s good by himself and with his brother. He’s very easy to please, really. All it takes is a good rub and then he’ll melt onto your shoulders, bruxing and boggling your ear off. He particularly likes to be under my shirt/hoodie by my right hip or on my upper chest so he can just peak his head out while he naps.

Norton loves peas, oats, corn and pasta. It’s funny because you kept saying that they don’t particularly care for pasta, but on the first night here, the first piece of food Norton took from the bowl was an orange pasta, and then he proceeded to dig through the food dish until he had consumed every last piece.

Sleepie boys!
Sleepie boys!

Both boys adore food. We take them out in the evenings and feed them fresh produce on our laps and they already have the routine down, clinging to the doors around 6pm when we get back from dinner and sniffing around, waiting for what good stuff we’ll give them this time. They’re really funny with eggs and grape tomatoes. Norton will try to hoard the whole thing, tucking himself in the corner and using his body to block Ralph from getting any, but Ralph is really sneaky and will slip past him. Peas are their all time favorite. Interestingly, Norton won’t eat the shells, but Ralph will, so we always know who made the mess once they’ve finished digging through the bowl for the tastiest treats.

When we take them out for play time on the bed, they’ll hover around the cage or under blankets/bags/pillows/in boxes if we aren’t on the bed with them, but the moment we draw near, they’ll run to whatever side we are at. I’ve built a little gate so they can run directly from their cage to the bed freely for a few hours when we are watching tv/doing homework on the bed and they love to run around and wrestle in the open space. Their favorite thing to do is burrow under our computers or run between our bodies as if we’re human jungle gyms. Ralph doesn’t really stray far from us unless he’s following Norton somewhere, but Norton loves climbing on the bed post and up blanket mountains and digging through all the toys we spread around. They’re really good about not marking/peeing/pooping on the bed and know to go back into the cage or hold it if they can. We’ve been litter box training them and Ralph is pretty good with it, but Norton still doesn’t really understand the concept, but I’m confident he’ll learn, at least a little, in time. I don’t expect it to be 100%, but even 50% of the time is better than never.

If you’d like to see some pictures of them, I’ll be updating a bunch regularly to my photobucket for them, so you can see how they’re doing. http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v635/petzisme/Fluffies/?start=0

I hope everything is well with you! Thanks again for raising our boys!

Sincerely,
Amanda and Kathleen

Amanda and Kathleen, thank you so much for taking the time to write! It sounds like Ralph and Norton have found the most loving home possible. I’m so glad to hear how well they’re doing with the two of you! That’s so funny about the pasta, too – Gryphon swears that they didn’t really seem to touch it when they were with us! I’m glad they’re good eaters, and apparently very snuggly Ratties. My boys have gotten so big!

All photos taken by Amanda and/or Kathleen, and are their property.

Just Putting This Out There…

Filed under: Daily Life,Games,Gryphon,Holidays,Rats! — folkcat at 5:28 pm on Tuesday, November 18, 2008

…since I know several family members now read this blog, at least on occasion.

Here’s the link to my Amazon Wishlist .

In case it matters, I’d say the most desired item on that list is the three copies of the new EverQuest II expansion, The Shadow Odyssey. With Gryphon currently on at least temporary disability from work, and without cable television, EQII is our number one entertainment source, and the only one we’re still paying for in this tight budget. We derive so much pleasure from it, and the cost-per-hour for the value we get from it is dirt cheap compared to what a lot of people spend money on, so we consider it a totally worthwhile expense. We’d need a separate copy of the expansion for each active account – between us, that’s three.

We can still play and enjoy the game without having the expansions right away, but The Shadow Odyssey does add a lot of content that will enhance our online reality.

For What It’s Worth. No obligations, no worries. Just putting this information out there for anyone who wants it.

In other news…

Gabby and A.J. went to their new foster home on Saturday. Caitlin has already had such success with them that I’m calling her the Rat Whisperer. Within 24 hours, she had handled them multiple times without a bite, and had them hanging out on her lap.

I am humbled, and in awe. And simultaneously immensely pleased that the girls have such a wonderful place to live now, and totally curious how we managed to get off on the wrong foot with them.

To use a phrase I really hate, but which seems appropriate, “it is what it is.” I’m really glad that it’s all working out for the best for them, at last.

Gryphon

Still out of work. Still waiting for disability insurance to kick in. Still immensely grateful to my family for all the help they’ve been able to give us.

We are closer to answers regarding Gryphon’s health. He has, apparently, more than one lung-related problem. We’ve begun treating for the one, the other still has some tests needed to determine how bad it is.

Meanwhile, we passed a threshold today. We went to the DMV and picked up temporary disabled parking tags for him. Given that he can hardly walk from the living room to the kitchen and back without stopping to catch his breath, he needs them.

We’re still wrapping our brains around that.

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!

Holding Pattern

Filed under: Daily Life,Gryphon,Knitting,Rats! — folkcat at 4:01 pm on Monday, November 10, 2008

Many thanks to everyone who offered their support over the issues of our foster girls. It really did help to hear from you.

Gabby and A.J. will be moving on soon to a foster home where they know how to deal with biting rats. I am greatly relieved – I knew that something more can be done for them than we are able to offer at this time, and now they’ll get it. It looks like we’ll be passing them along this coming weekend, schedules willing.

Gryphon is still home. We still don’t know everything about what’s wrong. But we do have some progress – a test today actually showed something that can be explored further, and may be a likely factor in many, though probably not all, of his symptoms. I’d tell you more, but it’s not my story to share, and we actually don’t know enough yet to say anything more certain than this.

I’ve been knitting rat rugs, kitchen dishcloths, and rat hammocks. Many of them. My hands hurt sometimes. They’re simple garter-stitch, fairly mindless, and we need them. So it’s a good thing. And they help me cope with the stress of everything.

The Perma-Ratties are still doing just fine, and keeping me good company. Lola is now 1 year, 9 months old, and at least once a day she comes to my lap and just tucks in a narrow space between my arm and my belly to snuggle and get skritched. Yuri and Leonardo are about 1 year old now and, well, they’re boys, and spend lots of time just lounging up in the highest elevations of the cage. Both of them, however, are more willing to come out on the lap with the whole gang and mill about under a blanket. Lily and Laurel are all of 4 1/2 months or so old, still children, really. They are bouncy, lively, and curious about everything. Still too wriggly to sit still for a skritching, but they love coming out to play.

Hang in there, folks, and thanks for keeping me company. More when there’s more to tell.

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.