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Sunday, November 11, 2012

From Buddy to Bear to Domino

If you've kept up with The Rat Retreat, you'll know Buddy passed away. He became fully trust-trained, was introduced to and lived with two girls, one of whom he dearly loved, had a huge tumor removed and recovered to live several more months. Every moment of working with him was worth it as I witnessed him living a life of joy. When a second tumor formed and attached, he was put to sleep. He had not been eating well for two days. He had spent enough of his life suffering.

The next rat that required a lot of work was Bear. His success story and the details of trust-training a biting rat, are documented on The Rat Retreat Facebook page.

Now I am working with Domino. I will not repeat his history, also documented on The Rat Retreat Facebook page, but will start with today.

He was neutered about 4 days ago. Yesterday, in front of a visiting group, he grabbed the skin on my wrist and tried to pull me that way. When I got my arm away, he lunged and caught my hand in his teeth. I was quicker! I only got deep scratches, but everyone gasped and exclaimed. I saw this morning that Domino was suffering the rat's equivalent of embarrassment over that incident.

Every morning I trust train him, leading him into my lap with food, waiting for the hormone-inspired, territorial impulses to die out. After yesterday, I decided to keep some distance. I brought my bowl of cereal to the end of the table and offered to share. Domino just looked at me...sad and puzzled. I realized that he himself did not understand why he had bitten me yesterday, and was unhappy about it. I explained to him that it was just hormones...part of his nature...and that he would begin to feel calmer and less territorial. I took him a piece of cereal and told him I was not mad at him.

After eating the cereal, he slowly crept across the table. I felt so sad that this beloved creature didn't come to me boldly. I have only worked with him and spoken softly to him, hand-feeding him tidbits to let him know that I want peace with him. Perhaps my having to wrap him in a towel to return him to his table after biting, was causing him to feel less than loved. I know he must have felt some kind of sting yesterday, too, as our 9 visitors played and laughed with the other rats, while avoiding him.

I encouraged him to come to my bowl and share my breakfast. He finally took a mouthful of banana and cereal and went back to his hiding place. After he finished that, I carried to him the last two bits of cereal and waited for him to finish those and return to the bowl. He drank some soymilk from the bowl, but refused my offer to climb into my lap. At least when he walked away this time, he did not cower. He had a return of some pride...knowing he is loved. I took the last of the bowl and lay it in front of him...a hopeful offering for a better day tomorrow.

I have noticed that we both have to take a few steps backwards after a bite. I have to relearn to trust him and he to trust himself. Tomorrow will be 6 days since neutering. If he starts to pull on my clothing with his teeth, I will quickly wrap him in a towel and remove him from my lap, again. Better to risk embarrassment than the setback of another bite.

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