Four juvenile male rats came into my life on Friday, Sept 1. The day before I had seen an email from the local animal shelter looking for someone to care for and socialize the four rats who are terrified of humans. Obviously, my first thought was, Hey, I can totally do that! A series of emails with the volunteer coordinator and in no time at all the plan established.
For background I have next to no experience with rats. I’ve cared for a couple for friends when they were out of town, and in elementary school I had guinea pigs, and also on occasion took care of gerbils and hamsters. So, yeah, my credentials here are extensive.
on how to socialize rats, and talked with two individuals who are rat fanciers and have rats as pets. I learned a ton! I knew rats are smart, and they are also very clean, but only live about three years. Rats are pack animals and should never be kept on their own, they always need at least one buddy. They are social, playful, and can be taught tricks. Fun right?
Then I learned about “feeder” rats. These are the rats that are bred as a food source for other animals.
On Friday, I talked to the volunteer coordinator who filled me in on what the shelter knew about the rats: A “feeder” rat had been purchased for a snake, but for whatever reason, the snake didn’t eat her and she had seven babies. The snake owner couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t feed any of the rats to the snake and called animal services to take them away. Mom and the three females were fostered out to one volunteer, and I got the four boys. Another thing I read about rats is they can go into heat every 4 or 5 days, so separating the sexes makes a ton of sense.
So, Friday afternoon I pick up the little guys, and bring them home to my spare room. Mostly the huddled in a pile in the corner, taking turns to see who got to be buried at the bottom. Based on their physical appearance, I have given them names to help keep track and so I can tell others about them:
Brave Little Toaster: he has a heart shaped mark and a black stripe down his back. He has been the boldest since they first arrived.
Spot: this guy has two spots on his back and is the second boldest, taking a lost of his cues from Brave Little Toaster.
T-bone: His mark looks kind like a t-bone steak or a filled in capital “P”. It’s a toss up who is the shyest, but T is definately in the running.
Pink Eye/Blanco: he is an all white pink eyed rat who think I’m really scary. He is often at the bottom of the rattie pile.
I tried to leave the little guys alone Friday evening (with some success), and have spent a lot of time yesterday and today going in and out of their room. Sometimes sitting with them with their cage open, sometimes with it closed. They are huge fans of cheerios so I drop a few in every time I got in the room so they will associate me with all the fud!
On Saturday I picked up an old fleece blanket at Goodwill to make them a hammock, with some binder clips I had around the house. I haven’t actually seen a rattie in there yet, but somebody ate all the cheerios I put in it.
This afternoon I sat with them with cheerios on my open palm, and Brave and Spot (Brave first) came up to take the cheerios off my palm in the most delicate manner possible. If I hadn’t been watching, I don’t think I would have noticed or felt them.
Then after dinner I spent more time with them. More time, sitting looking at my phone with one hand and the other holding cheerios. Brave and Spot were wise to this now and had no trouble sniffling around and checking out my thumb, wrist and arm. The big change was Pink Eye, who just as i was ready to leave, snuck up to grab his own cheerio! I wanted to cheer, but he was already freaked by his own action. Once he had the cheerio. he didn’t know what to do, on one side was a rattie pile, and on the other was my wrist. I moved away so he could escape with his treasure.
It feels good to see so much progress already. Tomorrow I’m going to take them into the bathroom and try to coax them out of their cage for a little while.