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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sociable Sammy

"Little Sammy," is what I call him, never by his name, "Sammy." Sammy never grew, like the other rats did. He stopped growing at about 4 months old. He is even smaller than some of the girls. I was concerned about him. He never learned to climb on my shoulder and seemed a little slow on the uptake. He even looked like he didn't get it...wasn't sure what being a rat was all about, wasn't even sure what he was doing here on earth, in this house.

When Sammy looks out over the room, he tilts his head, curious. Head tilt usually would be a sign of something wrong, but he doesn't do it all the time...just when he looks out over the room from his table.

Sammy never seemed particularly attached to me, or interested, but I recently had to start medicating I had a chance to bond with him, but he took awhile.

My method of giving meds is to bring them to my chair, put a towel in my lap for them to rest on, then let them lick the meds from a dish in my lap. Most rats take a couple of feedings, with me letting them lick meds off of my finger, before they can relax and eat on their own. But Sammy took a couple of weeks, where he would huddle in one spot on my chest and shiver, licking medicine occasionally. The whole process took 15 to 20 minutes to get him through 1ml of medication (amoxicillin in cream, which every rat loves).

At first, I felt impatient. I wanted to put it in a syringe and force it in, but I felt like that might just break his spirit, though I've successfully done it with others. As I held him, wading through the tediously long feeding, I tried to recall my original affection for him. I am very attracted to intelligence and thinking of him as "slow" was a turn off.

Finally, this morning, he eagerly clambered down onto the towel and started licking the meds on his own! I was shocked. He didn't shiver or shake or take long at all. It was as if a "sociable" switch had been turned on!

I think Sammy is thoughtful, not slow. I have not spent much time with him, one-on-one and where that might be okay with other rats, he apparently needs more of my time. I had a volunteer like that...she was slow to respond, but clearly intelligent. I felt impatient with her, too, at first. But the more time I spent with her, the more I connected. As I have come to know rats better, I realize how much like us they are. Sociable Sammy might be considered to be a "nerd" were he a human...and, as we all know, nerds are pretty smart.

Domino Passes Muster

Today was the first day Domino allowed me to pick him up with my bare hands...not only allowed me, but came to me when I called!

The last few days have been trust training as follows: I hold a handful of cereal in my left hand; as he comes to pick out some pieces, I pet him with my right hand; he runs with the cereal then repeat; when my left hand is empty, I invite him into my lap; I do not pet him while he is in my lap, but let my hands brush against his sides; he nibbles my fingers, then leaves.

While volunteers were here today, Domino needed to be moved. I had planned the next step to be picking him up, but it happened unexpectedly. I just tried scooping him up with both hands and he complied. Later, when I called him, he came to be picked up again.

I told my husband earlier today that Domino's whole demeanor has changed. His look is softer...loving and affectionate, like the other rats. When I carried him to my husband this afternoon, to show him the miracle, he said, "He is looking at you like he adores you." Food definitely works, but with Domino, as with Bear, there is more. These are the rats that will be forever loyal, that will have a very deep bond with me. They bit me and I loved them anyway...eventually loving them out of it.

This is my first experience like this and I will do it again. I've never trust-trained biting rats before. I have Debbie Ducommun and Debra Mendelsohn to thank for this. Debbie writes a basic trust-training guide, which I always use. Watching Debra's videos helped me develop a method to add to Debbie's. Bear took 1 month and being neutered to train. Domino took two months and being neutered. They both behaved completely different, having come from different backgrounds. As Debra said, I had to watch their body language. Also, I've learned to communicate with them, which has helped a lot. Debbie says that once they lick food off your fingers, they are unlikely to bite, but Domino did not follow this scenario. He bit anyway, even when I did not try to touch him.

Before writing this, I took Domino to the sofa with me, for the first time since he came here, on September 29, 2012. We watched an hour of tv. He seemed amazed to find himself sitting beside me. We shared pudding, then I let him run in and out from under a blanket while I stretched out.

What truly amazes me is that I have only spent about 20 minutes a day with Domino...all the time I had for him. Even with that small amount of time, I know his heart forever belongs to me...such a small sacrifice, for such a large gift.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tugging Behavior

Domino is finally getting to be trust trained to the point of grooming me. According to one rat expert, he should have been at that point long ago. He licked food off of me fingers, though, following it with bites.

Once visitors were witness to him grabbing the skin of my hand and pulling, tearing long gouges in my skin.

He was neutered two weeks ago, which has calmed him somewhat, but he still tugs on my clothes. I've noticed several rats doing that, though. Sometimes, I know they want the fabric of my clothes for nesting. Sometimes, I know they are enticing me to play. But, Domino, I am not sure of. I've been bitten by him about 6 times now and may just be gun-shy.

I tried to play with him once, and he took offense. Just now, he will let me touch him briefly, without biting.

Finally, today, he sat in my lap and nibbled my fingernails...clear grooming. And when he tugged on my shirt, he was careful not to get skin. But I don't know what it means. And I wonder if I will ever completely trust him.

My closest guess is that rats use their teeth like hands in some ways. Know how you may playfully pull at a loved ones clothes? Or tug on a sleeve to get someone's attention? That's what this feels like to me.

Something I read recently said to give your animals a job, so that they feel useful. I asked Domino to bring in new volunteers, so I always thank him when we get a new one. Maybe that is what the tugging behavior is...he's letting me know he's pulling in a new one!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Security in Rituals

Bernadette has to have her teeth trimmed every two weeks, due to a malocclusion. She has become so used to it that she sits calmly on my lap at the vet, admired by all who come in.

Today she had a lot of anxiety. She climbed all over me, digging in her nails. She could not stay still except to climb under my arm to urinate...very unusual for her.

At first I thought it was because I was tense...the holidays, the traffic, forgetting the office would be closed until the last minute and having to rush.

I was really concerned. She is almost two and her brother died of bone cancer. Anything off in her makes me antsy.

Then I realized my behavior in the office was different. Instead of sitting on the bench in front of the front desk, I sat in a chair and looked at a magazine. Change can be enough to throw any of us off, especially in a potentially scary situation.

Over and over again, I have noticed how important ritual is to least to rescued rats. The only change they seem to enjoy is new toys and a clean cage.

Anything new in Bear's routine takes him until the second time to become comfortable with. The first time I put him in my lap to tickle him, he was confused. The second time, he got it...we can also do tickles in mommy's lap. When I let him run around in the bathroom while I dress or bathe, he knows exactly what my last move will be before time to leave. Right beforehand, he will clamber to get up my leg and onto my I don't leave him behind? All of them seem to be as relieved to go back to their tables as they do to get off of them.

Though sometimes I'm off with the timing of meds or dinner, I make sure to do everything in the same order right down to who gets their dinner bowl first. I can feel the anxiety in the room, if I don't. Bless their hearts...born into lives of chaos and danger, they cling to every measure of security and safety. Don't we all?

Next time I take Bernadette, forget the pleasure of People magazine and a plush chair. I will take my seat on the bench, where everyone who comes in can see her, and she them...where she will feel safe.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Here, I was given an opportunity to speak for 5 minutes in front of an audience of 800 people. One month later, it was on youtube.

Watching this today, for the first time, and listening to the audience's response...well no wonder I cried. How difficult to be right in the midst of a rescue it and breathing it every day, then trying to talk about it to unsympathetic listeners.

If it weren't for Sara, this may not have been received well at all. I knew her brief life was for a purpose...this was it. The audience turned when I cried on stage.

All the discussions us "rat people" have about which antibiotic to use first and which diet is best fades in importance when so many are being put to their cruel deaths every day.

Last night, I read accounts of how rats suffer when strangled to death by snakes and how, because we have minimized the importance of their lives, they are treated with unimaginable cruelty in the name of fun.

As I held the soft, warm bodies to administer medication, I could not fathom how or why a human could bash one of these bodies against a wall to knock him out...or step on him in order to crush him to death. But then, we know the same atrocities have been committed against our own kind, so why not these helpless creatures?

I think what we do to small animals is symptomatic of the big problem. As long as we think there are people or animals that are lesser than ourselves...less worthy...less deserving...we will not have peace. We will not have peace in this world until we learn to treat our littlest creatures with care and realize that every living being has a right to be here and to be treated with respect.

I don't encourage everyone to have a companion rat, but, I encourage everyone who wants a healthy world for themselves and their progeny to have respect enough for every living creature to speak out against tortuous and barbaric behavior of every kind.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Senior Living

Cleaning Bernadette's cage today put me in a reflective mood. I filled her area with warm hammocks, interesting places to climb and fresh toys. Six people live on this 5' banquet table with 2 open cages. Every time I clean a cage, I change things a little.

When I finished, Bernadette was at the end of the sofa, waiting. Some of them know when I've finished and they wait, eagerly, to see the changes.

I sat and watched her check out every toy, climb through every tunnel and test the beds. Twice she came back to me to thank me and offer her approval.

Next was little Sammy, then Jack Frost and Bartholomew. Each of them spent a good 10 minutes exploring.

Last I went to get Irene and Mocha. I found them together, under a blanket, Irene lying across Mocha's back...a young boy making a soft place for a senior. I sat and watched them for a few minutes, remembering. Bernadette and Irene are nearly 2 years old. When they arrived, they were with 2 cage mates, who later died. Then they were introduced to Buddy, who also died. Then they lived with Tot and Pongo, who were adopted.

Finally, I chose four "sanctuary" rats to stay and be their companions, because Bernadette and Irene are permanent residents. Bernadette wanted nothing to do with anyone else. Now she can be found curling up with each boy, in turn, on any given day.

Irene has always loved everyone else. She came from a very sad took months to get her to trust us enough to let us pick her up. To see her contentedly snuggled with her young companions and know that she will have companionship for the rest of her life is such a comfort, as it is to be able to give her a good life in many other ways.

I would be happy to live out my last days with the kind of life these older rats have...surrounded by friends, caretakers, entertainment, warmth and good food. May every senior citizen of every species have opportunity for similar blessings!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Healthy Bear, Healthy Me

I've witnessed karma in action with Bear. Bear bear, baby boo, baby names for a rat that wiggled his butt so that he could sink his teeth into my arm on the first day we met. The bruise took nearly two weeks to heal.

This morning, we use every excuse to touch each other gently...him rubbing against my hands, nose to my face, reaching to be picked up...and I tickle or touch him each time he passes me. I adore him and know he loves me deeply.

Love is a given after trust-training. I've never trust-trained a rat and not had a mutual bond form. But Bear and his biting brought an extra blessing of laughter.

I don't laugh much. This business is too sad; I don't always feel so good; and I don't work very hard to bring laughter into my life. But Bear...well, Bear has me giggling twice a day.

I guess it's his huge, muscle-packed enthusiasm. Everything is great fun to him and his whole body shows it. Most of his movements are hops, leaps, bounds or running. He is excited about: my peeling an orange, the smell of an apple, the smell of other rats on the sofa, the possibility of a hidden rat in the blanket, getting a piece of orange, getting a peanut, finding an M&M and being tickled.

He lets me know when he is ready for tickling by leaping toward my hand and doing a 180 degree turn. Then he grabs my finger (gently) and wrestles a bit.

He's ready for any new game. I pat my lap, wanting him to hop up and roll over so I can rub his belly. He eagerly hops onto my lap and looks at me...not sure what I want, but ready to try.

He appears to be trying to squeeze in all the happy moments he missed in his previous life, into this life. Everything I do, everything I give him delights him.

And even when he has kept me laughing for 30 minutes straight, when I put him back on his table this morning, he has one more trick. He picks up a toy, carries it to the edge and drops it on the floor right in front of me. He looks very pleased as I burst into laughter one more time this morning.

I have often sensed that when we laugh, our rats enjoy the sound. Our laughter seems to increase their antics. Bear works twice as hard as any other rat I've known, to keep me laughing. The bite didn't even leave a mark, but the laughter is carving some deep grooves into my marred soul.