Many people who offer a home to a rescue rat are experienced rat owners – and for good reason too. Sadly, many of the rats that come into a Rat Rescue will be mentally and emotionally scarred by their past, meaning that some may be exceptionally timid or very aggressive. However, as this story demonstrates – written in her own words by rat lover Kerry May – with lots of love and patience your new rat can learn to trust you and you can have a wonderful friendship.
On the 27th December 2002 a friend phoned to tell me that there was an advert in the paper for a white female rat called Ruby free to a good home. I wasn’t really looking for another rat as I already had 2 but I kept thinking about her so I phoned the number in the advert. A man told me that his daughter bred gerbils and hamsters and thought about giving “rats a go” but she had got bored!
When I got round there a woman told me that she had found a home for the male some time ago and that Ruby had been in the shed for about a year. I was asked to wait while the woman got her for me. Ruby was very clean and obviously well fed but when I got her home she cowered in the carry case and was really scared of me.
I set up a cage with 3 beds and spread loads of bedding about and quickly took her from the carry case and put her in her new home. Once she had settled down a bit she began collecting every strand of bedding and putting it into the bed she had chosen, along with a towel that I had left in the cage.
Ruby spent all of the next day looking at what was going on, so in the evening I decided to let her out for the first time. I took her cage into the hall, closed all the doors and sat on the floor. She came quite gingerly and wouldn’t let me near her, I had to keep absolutely still otherwise she ran back to her house.
The next day when I let her out and she was down the other end of the hall, I sat in front of the cage and put my legs either side of the door so that she would have to climb over a leg to get back in. I do this with all my new rats to get them used to touching me on their own terms, as it puts no pressure on them, but she climbed up the side of the cage and down the front and went headfirst into the cage, all to avoid me!
The day after though she seemed quite happy to climb over my legs to get in and even ignored me when I got up to sort her house out. The day after I was pleased when she climbed up my arm, the pleasure was short-lived though, because as soon as she jumped off me she bit my hand then legged it back to her house.
Each time I put my hand near her she bit me hard enough to draw blood which was becoming very unpleasant to say the least.
It soon became obvious that she loved her food and even though she was wary of me she would come straight out of her bed when she smelt something nice. So to get her used to me I prepared sweetcorn for her dinner then sat in front of the cage with the lid up. I put both hands in and held a piece of sweetcorn with one hand and as she came out of her bed I would attempt to touch her with the other.
If I managed to even brush against her fur slightly without getting bitten, I rewarded her with the sweetcorn, if I didn’t manage to touch her before she ran off or bit me she didn’t get the food. I would do this we 4 or 5 pieces then leave her to eat in peace. I did this for 2 weeks and although she stopped running away she still jumped when I touched her.
When she was outside her cage I would try to touch her at every opportunity, sometimes I got bitten but mostly she just scooted off. One day she was obviously very fed up with me and really lunged for me. I got a print on the back of my hand of top teeth and bottom teeth an inch apart!
Over the next few weeks she became very happy to climb over me while out of the cage, once though without thinking I put my hand on her has she walked past me and she pinged about 2 feet in the air, poor Ruby, but it was hilarious.
One day, 6 weeks after her arrival I touched her and was able to leave my hand on her for several seconds and she wasn’t bothered. I even managed to put both my hands round her body as if to pick her up but I was so worried about scaring her that I let go, but she kept coming back for more Yay! We were getting there.
Some time later I was laying in the hall while she had a run when I put my hand on her, she scooted off but came back again, so I put my hand on her again, this time harder. We spent ages with her running off then coming back for me to touch her. This was the start of her really starting to trust me.
Several times I tried to introduce her to my other rats but she was quite savage and attacked them ripping out fur and drawing blood and I decided quite quickly that it wasn’t worth upsetting everyone and that she would have to live alone.
One year on, Ruby trusted me implicitly and loved a cuddle. She would sit on my lap for ages while I rubbed under her ears. She would still bite me if she felt inclined but it was usually when she was playing rather than with aggression. No less painful though
It was around June 2003 when she started to lose the hair on her legs. The hair gradually disappeared until she was completely bald apart from the odd tuft on her head and bum. The vet treated her for mites but it made no difference the hair was gone for good. (Editors note: If your female rat starts to lose her fur and it is not mites or a food allergy, it could well be a hormonal imbalance).
I then noticed a small lump between her legs, the vet said it was a tumour, which because of its position it could not be operated on. A lump then appeared on her chest. Poor Ruby she was bald and lumpy and not a pretty sight at all.
The lump between her legs grew and grew and I did not imagine that she would still be around at Christmas, but she was. She continued to be a happy person, enjoying her food and attempting to attack the others when she passed their cage.
During March I began to think about what I was going to do. Although she still launched herself at the side of the cage every morning when I went in the living room I knew it couldn’t go on forever. She was such a special little thing that I did not want her to be in pain or for me to find her one morning collapsed and suffering.
I made the decision that I would take her to the vet before it got to that stage. When she began bunny hopping due to the size of the lump between her legs I made the decision to phone the vet the next day. But that morning she launched herself up at the side of the cage as usual that I just couldn’t do it when she seemed so happy.
I eventually made the decision and on 29th March 2004 we had a cuddle, I gave her a chocolate biscuit and took her to the vet.
The vet was lovely. The tank had a nice towel in it and Ruby went in quite happily and wasn’t scared at all and she just went to sleep, bless her precious heart.
Author : Kerry May