So I answered a Preloved ad for a pair of year-old rats. Ideal, thought I, to fill the gap between my creaky old gents and the boisterous young Zephyrs who are driving them nuts simply with wanting to play. The owner of the rats in question seemed lovely; she was fretting about her rats’ wellbeing and obviously loved them very much. They were up for homing because the daughters they’d been bought for were a bit too young to find rats interesting long term. Mum also mentioned during our conversation that her neighbour had a separate two rats she wanted to get rid of because she was pregnant. I explained that I couldn’t house eight rats permanently due to lack of cage space, but would take them temporarily if the neighbour was desperate.
They look like adorable youngsters, don’t they? They’re the same size as four or five-month-olds too. Welp, they really are a year old; this is what you get when Mum, however much she loves her daughters’ ratties, doesn’t know the first thing about feeding them enough protein while they grow. That said, they have the most wonderful temperaments: they’re gentle, polite and cuddlesome and the black Berkie (top in the photo) is a proper little shoulder rat. My housemate was getting worked up about the number of rats I was ending up with creeping upwards… I suspect there may be a discussion yet to come, because the berkie spent his entire free range time sat on my shoulder nuzzling up to me and it may take high explosives to get me away from him. Sadly they were crawling with lice when they arrived, but after a dose of ivermectin (with two more to go) they’ve even got lovely silky coats. I’m really getting fond of them 🙂
The neighbour spent my whole visit hovering by the garden gate, and after Mum to the first two had talked herself out of steam (it took a while) and I’d got them installed in the carrier, I went up to neighbour and started to say “So apparently you wanted to have a word with me?”. By the time I was half way through the sentence she’d grabbed a cage from inside her front door and shoved it into my hands.
Bad enough start. I glanced at the cage; it was a hamster cage, not an overlarge one, and there were two full size adult rats in it. It was filthy, literally encrusted with muck. The floor was covered with woodshavings – potentially toxic to rats – which I would realise when I got the cage into the car were soaked in pee. No food was apparent and the huge water bottle contained a few centimetres of unpleasantly cloudy-looking water. When I eventually took it off the cage it had black mildew growing up the inside. The only concession to enrichment inside this little prison was a chewed green and yellow plastic sputnik covered in streaks of dried urine and splatters of porphyrin.
“I can’t be cleaning them out, I’m pregnant,” said the neighbour. It was clearly the most self-evident fact in the world. Her glossy, well-fed black Labrador had its paws up on the fence beside her; I wondered if she knew what kind of bacteria dogs carry around in their mouths, and whether she thought it was cute when the dog licked the kids. I stroked the Lab’s ears, trying not to do it pointedly. “Oh he loves playing with the rats,” she remarked. “He likes to sniff them.”
As you can see they’re stunning – a roan who seems to have very dark ruby eyes, and a very distinguished-looking agouti with a huge white belly splodge. They’re also amazingly outgoing for two rats who arrived in such a mess. The roan in particular, who I’m calling Rigel, is confident and inquisitive – which has unfortunately meant that scruffy old Magnus his cagemate has borne the brunt of Rigel’s boredom. He’s lost half his fur to barbering. I thought there was something wrong with his testicles till I realised they just didn’t have any fur on the underside!
They were, alas, pet shop rats – sold without any emotional value attached. A novel toy for the owner’s daughter, and far less important to mum than an imminent kid. (Darling daughter was out at school and had not, apparently, been told the rats were leaving. Reminds me of my own childhood.) I’m really learning to hate the sale of live animals in pet shops. However small they are, you shouldn’t be able to impulse buy lives.
The vet’s verdict this morning was that nobody’s in a really parlous state, though Magnus may have a nasty case of worms and it’s a matter of seeing whether the ivermectin I put on every rat I own gets rid of them or not. I’m very glad to know I haven’t saddled myself with high vet bills from the get-go.
The upshot, then, is what you see in the first photo. One living room, three cages, and a somewhat unimpressed housemate (not pictured). We’re stuck like this for a month while I get them all properly fed and healthy enough to deal with the stress of intros. My housemate hasn’t murdered me yet, and it’s even provoked a productive conversation about what exactly it is that winds him up about the rats. (Adso and Fingermouse, basically; they’re so brash they don’t care about peeing on everything and interrupting your peace and quiet like three-year-olds). So cross your fingers for me, and for all the new additions too.