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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 him...so 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.