Of Rats and Jen (Inactive)

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

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…


Comment by Carrie K

October 24, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

Clearly the Rattie version of “You’re not the boss of me”, eh?

Comment by Leesa

October 25, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

Oh no, a serial novel in progress! The suspense is killing me. 🙂

Comment by Carol

October 26, 2008 @ 11:40 am

I am waiting with bated breath for the next installment! Surely you didn’t let her be the dominant of you?

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