Sorry about the radio silence, folks – it’s been a hectic few months. However, I am now delighted to announce that two gorgeous young men from Zephyr Rats have joined Salt and Pepper, bringing me up to a proper mischief of four rats in total 🙂
Zephyr Adso of Melk is a very handsome chocolate dumbo, which for those of you who don’t speak rat-fancy means he’s been carefully bred to be brown and have silly-looking ears. He’s a laid-back personality who always has time to come and say hello, and if the size of his feet (among other parts of him) is anything to go by, when he’s all grown up he’s going to be huge. He was named for the character Adso from Name of the Rose, because his ears make him look like a monk whenever he stands up.
Zephyr Fingermouse is a colour known as quicksilver, which is a pale even grey with ruby-red eyes. He’s a stunning-looking rat, and although at the moment he’s still very much a baby it’s easy to see what a looker he’s going to be. He was named Fingermouse because of an amusing photo Mary the Zephyr breeder posted of him investigating her finger, which gave me an instant earworm of a kids’ TV theme I remember from my youth. He’s very rapidly acquired several nicknames – in the following order, he’s now more usually known as: Fing, Pingermouse, Ping the Merciless, and the Ping from Outer Space. Ping is another piece of rat fancy slang – a “pingy” rat is excitable and never sits still, and Fing is the definition of pinginess. I’m almost looking forward to him growing out of it.
These two have been long awaited – the reason I got Salt and Pepper at all was because Mary had such an immense waiting list for her litters. Although having done that I found my rescue boys so rewarding that I know I did the right thing. Introductions between the two pairs haven’t gone completely smoothly; partly I rushed things a little due to inexperience and put them in the big cage too soon, and partly Pepper has seen quite a bit of the seamy side of life and doesn’t have an enormous amount of patience with Fingermouse’s antics. In any case, whatever the cause it all led to me finding Fing with a large patch of fur torn off behind one ear a few days ago, so all four of them got plonked back in a smaller cage without any toys or hammocks to force them to focus on each other and sort their ideas out. As of the last couple of days there’s been a contented heap of varicoloured fur in the corner of the introductions cage each morning, so now I move on to a cautious hammock and once that’s OK, consider putting them back in the big cage.
Well, Mother Nature never ceases to confound everyone’s expectations. The Zephyr saga continues: a couple of Mum no. 2’s kittens have turned out to be buff and topaz, or in layman’s terms beige with dark red eyes and ginger with dark red eyes. These are doubtless going to be two stunning rats, but they’re also unexpected colour varieties; that they’ve popped up at all means Mary has a rogue gene hiding in the depths of her line that doesn’t fit her breeding strategy. Mum no 3, bless her valiant heart, swelled up like a balloon a week and a half in and has produced a mighty twelve brand new little sausages today; four of those are boys, so there are now 12 boys in total. Theoretically that’s enough for everyone with a couple over, but the unexpected genetic quirk means Mary will likely be keeping more rats than she thought so she can make some test matings and find rats in her line that don’t carry the rogue gene she’s trying to drop. So the Zephyr stalker contingent is on
tenterhooks: the Great Elder is reshuffling her future breeding plans, deciding who to keep and working out who’s getting babies from these litters and who’s not. I’ve been told over and over again that Mary’s waiting list isn’t strictly linear because some people want specific colours to show or breed from, and I know I’m not fussy about colour – I’m after certain personality traits to help balance Salt and Pepper out. But there are also people on there who’ve been waiting inordinate amounts of time, and as a relative neophyte I also don’t want to tread on toes!
So for now I’m contenting myself with stalking the adorable progress pics of the two older litters (a couple of which I’ve included here because they are far too cute) and reading up on rat genetics in the hope of having more of a clue what’s generally going on.
This week’s developments: Pepper is a total camera whore. I barely get any photos of Salt these days. I’m going to put up some before and after photos of their behaviour soon (as soon as I can be bothered with all the image processing faff) simply because the change is so striking. The clicker training’s revolutionised Pepper, he seems to have finally realised he can interact with me as if I were another rat and is suddenly all confidence and affection. It’s lovely. I also heartily recommend Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog” if you’re at all interested in this style of training.
Pep is also a fast learner – “come here” is more or less established and will even tempt him out from under cushions, although I need to polish it up and get him responding a bit quicker. Continue reading
No photo today because it’s One Of Those Weeks in my life, but I’m delighted to say that this morning’s visit to the vet after another bout of sneezing and whistling from poor Salty was very positive. I’d already guessed from their increased liveliness and improved condition that they were doing well – they’ve now got proper, full-length muscle in their tails which they didn’t have when they first arrived. The way they curl their tails up when they’re foraging is making me laugh – two little pink serpents poke out above the cage base and scurry around.
So when I first got rats, I was partly influenced by the fact that they’re intelligent and trainable – they’re sometimes called pocket dogs, pretty much for exactly that reason. And a couple of days ago I spent £2 in a fit of late-night enthusiasm on a clicker in the hope of beng able to train them to do a few things. (I’m a little bit sore at discovering that one of those jam jar lids with a button would do just as well, but I also admit I’m rather less likely to throw out a colourful plastic knick-knack by accident!) I’m not hoping for anything as amazing as the stuff in this video:
But it would be great if they’d come when called, and the one where they’ll jump into your hand looks pretty useful as well. And I’m sure I’ll have some creative ideas along the way. Who knows? I have Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog” on request at the library for some insight about methodology and there are lots of helpful Youtube videos and forum folk about – wish me luck 🙂
Oh dear oh dear. You know you’ve become a rataholic when.
Here in Cambs our local rat stud is the redoubtable Zephyr Rats, producer of some of the friendliest and most outgoing rats I’ve met in my short career. Mary of Zephyr was the first person I contacted hoping to get rats, but like many successful breeders she has a busy waiting list and I eventually took in Salt and Pepper as rescues so that I had some company and some fuzzies to care for to ease the wait. From the forums I find I’m not by any means alone – the Zephyr stalkers club is a grand tradition, apparently, as hopeful future Zephyr owners obsessively follow Mary’s mums-to-be and get absurdly excited over photos of babies that resemble nothing more than the mutant offspring of a raw cocktail sausage and a hippo. I am embarrassed to admit that I have now become one of them – I remind myself of the endless stream of new parents on my thirty-something Facebook news feed who flock to photographs of yet another small, red, squashed Winston Churchill clone and extol the aesthetic perfection of its tiny form. They’re not sausages, they’re beautiful. Mmkay?
And Camp Stalker is out in force at the moment, too. Mary’s been trying for some winter/spring litters, in theory three although she thinks one of them may not have taken at all. She informs me that to make all of her current list of hopeful owners happy she’ll need her three mums to produce ten boys. The first litter (pictured) turned out to only be five strong, and of those five only one is a boy! So if Mum no. 2 does indeed prove not to be pregnant, poor old Mum no. 3 would have to produce a whopping litter containing nine boys to satisfy us all. I have a terrible feeling I’m going to be waiting again!
Today is the boys’ first day off their Baytril (antibiotics, for the uninitiated). This is when I get to see if I’ve really made a difference to their health.
I’m also getting absurdly excited about the fact that the local breeder from whom I’m hoping to get a babies to boost up the group size has not one but three litters on the way – they’re due between the 10th and 19th of March and I’m waiting with bated breath for the photos of little pink sausages to start appearing online. She’s already said she doesn’t mind S&P having myco as she trusts her rats to be healthy as horses (and with good reason, all the Zephyr rats I’ve met have been huge, friendly and glossy as you like). So if we’re lucky and she doesn’t get litterloads of girls, there might be some new faces to introduce soon!