Owning rats, or as some say, being owned by rats, is a journey. For me it began with being intensely rat-phobic to where I am now, rat-obsessed (ok, i admit it).


Malmo, The Wounded Rat

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I found this story online. Apparently it was included in the book (now copyright-free and in the Project Gutenberg database) "Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper and other Stories" and the author was given as anonymous. I would love to know more about the story and how it originated. Anyway, here it is:

A poor man saw, by the roadside, a large white rat. It seemed to be dead. Moving it gently he found it was alive, but had a broken leg. He took it up and carried it to his lonely home. He bound up the bruised leg, fed the poor creature, and soon it was quite well.

Sam Tills trained the rat to gentle ways, and taught it many little tricks. Malmo was the only company Sam had. He worked in a cotton mill, and took Malmo with him. He rode in his master's coat-pocket. It looked droll to see his white head peeping out.

Sundays both went to dine with Sam's sister. Malmo's funny ways made everybody laugh. When Sam said, "Malmo, go sit in my hat," he went at once. He curled himself up in it, and nodded off to sleep.

When his master said, "Malmo, we're going now; slip in," the droll pet jumped from the hat, ran up to his pocket-nest, said good-by in his own fashion, and was ready to start. Evenings, when Sam was reading or singing from his mother's hymn-book, Malmo had a nap on his master's head. When it was time to go to bed Sam stroked Malmo's soft fur. The rat rubbed himself against his master's hand. It was their good-night to each other. Then Malmo crept into his basket, and the candle was blown out. Soon both were fast asleep.



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I am so happy and relieved. No fights last night and this morning Pickles had climbed in the hammock with Bailey and they were snuggled up together.

Verdict: Mean little friend better than no friend.

Is it Better to Be Alone or to Have a Mean Little Friend?

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Well, I didn't write about it. I think I was hoping that if I didn't write it, it wouldn't really be real. For several days I have had 8 rats in 4 separate cages.

There were 3 days of blissful goodwill and friendship among the 3 girls after Bailey was taken out and then all hell broke loose. I don't know what provoked it, but Pickles gave Dinky a fairly serious bite to the neck, although I didn't realize it at the time (pic is of the bite after 3 days of healing).

I saw the ball of fur roll down the ramps. It looked just like those old-time cartoons where you see a ball of flailing arms and legs, exclamation marks and fur flying (and there was actual fur that flew!). I took Pickles out and put her in the travel cage for a time-out (recently vacated by the last inmate, Bailey, for her new custom-built "cage-for-one"). Dinky climbed into the hammock with Luna and it wasn't until the next morning that I saw the blood caked on her neck. That pretty much settled it that Pickles couldn't stay with the older girls. I don't want the last of their lives spent being stressed out.

So, we figured we'd put Pickles and Bailey together in the slightly bigger cage, give the two older girls the new smaller cage, since they're more sedentary, and put the boys in the big Martins.

Um... yeah... well, that was the plan, but it didn't go quite that smoothly. Pickles and Bailey first had to duke it out big time. We reintroduced them. Coated them both with vanilla. Bailey immediately pursued Pickles, mounting her and hunting her down. Her tail was swishing and she seemed excited by the chase. She has an obssessive nature that is difficult to understand.

Pickles didn't initiate the fights but she wasn't about to back down either. Although she is quite a bit smaller, she managed to raise herself up on her tiptoes to be taller than Bailey. She was able to hold the position longer and seemed to win the alpha role after about an hour of them boxing and fighting each other. Both of them pulled out handfuls of each other's hair but there was no bloodshed.

Only towards the end did Bailey start to seem slightly more submissive. They are now in the cage together and it has been quiet so far, but I'm sure it won't be the last of it.


Pocket Lap Blanket for Tunnelers

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Tunnelers are what I call my rats who like to tunnel under things. They are the pushy little rats who insist on shoving their head between your calves to tunnel through, rather than just go over. These are also the rats who seem to like to chew great big holes in your couch and pull out all the stuffing so they can tunnel deep inside.

I have a couple of tunnelers and a patched futon that no one has been allowed on since I patched it. Linda B. from The Crafty Rat came up with a new blanket prototype, a pocket lap blanket, and I decided to buy one and give it a try to see if it might be a way to keep my naughty little girls from chewing holes in my sofa.

So far, so good. Pickles tried it out today and absolutely loved it. Dinky will be my next tester. The boys are not real tunnelers and didn't do much but pee on it (making it smell absolutely wonderful to Pickles, I'm sure!). And Pickles liked it much better when it wasn't on my lap. The size is perfect for my girls; big enough to adventure around in and small enough to fit next to me on the couch.

Linda doesn't have this on her website yet, but I'm sure if you're interested she would be willing to make one.

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The Prisoner update Sunday, November 20, 2005

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Parole denied.

We attempted to reunite the prisoner with Pickles, the only rat friend she has (make that had). She immediately attacked Pickles and went after her relentlessly and Pickles wasn't having it. Pickles had her mean face on and was seriously fighting back. We were planning on putting them in a separate cage together but that is not going to happen.

I guess we are going to put Bailey in her own cage and put her next to the other rats' cages so she can at least not be totally isolated from them. I am not looking forward to having to clean 3 cages but I don't know what else to do.

On the plus side, Bailey is bonding more with John and I. I guess she figures we're better than nothing.


I just don't get rats sometimes. It IS true that they are very fastidious groomers, much like cats and don't like to get gooey stuff on their paws or faces. HOWEVER...

and this is a big however...

they pee where they sleep. They're pretty good about using their litter tray for dookie, but they piss all over their nice clean hammocks and then they lay there and marinate in it.


and this is a big and...

if you give them a particularly delectable tidbit, they will race off with it to a safe place. What place do they pick? Right in the middle of their litter box. How pleasant can that be?

Explain this to me. What survival instinct is at work here? There's gotta be a reason but i sure don't know what it is. They always say that animals don't pee where they sleep, so why do rats?

They obviously like to be clean. They groom themselves and each other continuously. In fact, there is an unspoken rat rule that if two rats are in the middle of a fight or eating or whatever, and one starts grooming, the other one will stop and groom, too. Then they will pick up where they left off.

I just don't get it. Good thing they're so dang sweet and fun.



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Meditation time,
tiny rat feet touch my skin,
I drift off to sleep.

Ratku is a nickname for rat-centric Haiku.
Here's a few links.
contest winners
more Rat Haiku
some classical Haiku featuring rats

I wrote this because I used to freak out at the thought of a rat touching me. I used to have nightmares about being a prisoner in some Asian country and having a cage with live rats over my head (probably some scene from a movie). I used to think "...what if a rat came running out and ran right across my bare feet. I was obsessed with rats then, too. Obsessed with how horrid and creepy they were.

It is amazing to me now how the sound and feel of rats so completely relaxes me. For a long time after I got Penelope and Bon-Bon I still had this visceral reaction when they came up by my face. One day I made myself relax and let them crawl all over me. I finally felt free of my fear. It was such a joyful feeling.

I wonder how many other fears I could just let go of?


The Prisoner

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Bailey "i'll- huff- and- i'll- puff" Brown is in prison tonight.

Bailey is one of my rescue rats. I call her my little ship rat and Pickles my little sewer rat cuz they are a bit rough around the edges and are always getting in fights. Bailey has always been on the aggro-side with her cagemates, but lately she is just out of control. She has attacked Dinky and Luna repeatedly until they are screaming. If you have never heard a rat scream, believe me, you do not want to. I am worried that they are going to be permanently traumatized from being hunted down and attacked by her.

One odd side note is Pickles' role in all this. She and Bailey formed a really strong bond when they first arrived and she is like Bailey's sidekick. If Bailey attacks someone, she will come running to join her and will start attacking the other rat with her (even though she usually gets along peacefully with the others). I've never seen that happen with my other rats. Sometimes one will opportunistically power-groom a rat that another rat is already power-grooming, but never have any of them doubled-up on someone during a serious fight.

Poor Luna came from a home with one elderly cagemate who passed away. They never even fought. I think she is about to have a nervous breakdown from all the tension.

And all Dinky wants in life is a cozy hammock, a snuggle buddy, a bowl of good food and out time with mom and dad. Her scared little face as she tried to run away from Bailey (managing to waddle VERY FAST) and into my shirt brought out all my protective instincts. I told John she was Piggy from "Lord of the Flies".

I have been doing small time-outs with Bailey in the travel cage, which have helped, but not solved the problem. Tonight was a bad one. So tonight, the little ship rat is spending the night alone in the travel cage. I feel sorry for her, but I don't know what else to do. It is unbelievable quiet in the girls' cage right now.

I read somewhere that agouti-based rats are more aggressive (found it). John insists that this is racist and dubious. However, out of all the rats we've had, the two who were the cage terrorists were both agouti (Bon, cinnamon agouti and Bailey). Coincidence? Maybe.


Wists Social Bookmarking

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Thought I'd give a shout-out to Wists. One guy does this in his spare time and he is super nice and responsive and always improving the site. Wists is what's called a social bookmarking site. It allows communities to form around shared information.

So, for instance, if you and a group of people are interested in the same thing, lets just say.....RATS!...you can share your bookmarks, include a picture, put in keywords and write your own description of the website, and if you see someone else's website that you like you can click to add it to your own list.

I am a visual person and looking at my bookmark lists was getting impossible. This is way more manageable and interesting. I have an "Add to Wists" shortcut right on my browser menu bar. The image at the top left of this post is a screenshot of one of my entries.

If you are interested in rats, art or teaching you can check out my links at http://wists.com/eileen2000. You get to them by clicking on show tags at the top and then click on the word rat, art or teaching (or anything else that strikes your fancy).

And think about joining. Its free, the guy who runs it is a really nice person and its an easy way to share good rat websites, besides being a great way to keep track of what you already have bookmarked.


Review: The Scuttling Gourmet (2nd edition)

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I was interested in this book when I first read about it on the Shunamite Rattery website (the owner, Alison Campbell, is the author), but because it is located in the U.K. I didn't order it. If you are on that side of the globe, the website has several sources that stock it linked at the bottom of the page.

I recently discovered that Linda from The Crafty Rat has it here in the U.S. and is reselling it for $15.00, so I purchased one from her. She doesn't have it listed on her site, so she may have a limited number of copies available. (update 11-5-05: Linda informed me that she has added it to her website. She also passed on an interesting link to a breeder feeding rats a natural, raw diet, Sparticles Rattery.)

I am so happy I bought this book. I've been trying to read as much as possible on the web and elsewhere to figure out what a nutritious rat diet would really look like. I've found that there is a lot of conflicting information out there and much of the information has no explanation so that you cannot really make an informed decision.

This book is very thorough and goes into detail outlining the nutritional needs of rats at different stages of development and with specific medical conditions. There are several examples of good diets and healthy snacks and lots of recipes. There is also a fun section on food toys.

And there was also important information that i'd never heard or read before. One example is that mango flesh is as dangerous as oranges to male rats because of the d-limonene which can cause kidney cancer (more info about d-limonene and male rats can be found here).

Lots of people say "just feed lab blocks, then you don't have to worry". I've always felt that approach was wrong somehow, but didn't know how to argue against it. I like this author's philosophy. It is gratifying to see that a well-known and respected breeder feels that the pleasure that rats get from eating is reason enough not to feed just lab blocks and that rats can eat healthy and enjoy their food.

As a large person who is trying to eat healthier, I see it as the rat taste equivalent of the difference between a "Jenny Craig or Slimfast"-type diet compared to a well-balanced diet, high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with minimal and healthier snacks, and more exercise.
It is my personal belief that 'balance' should be interpreted as feeding a diet wide and varied enough to provide overall balance, rather than needing to find a homogenous, pelleted diet, where every mouthful contains the same balanced nutrients (but also the same flavour, smell and texture)...Like us, rats are omnivores, who naturally eat extremely varied diets. They also seem to derive a great deal of pleasure from eating.

-Alison Campbell
My only suggestions for future volumes would be an index and reviews of commercial mixes that are available in the U.S (oh, and maybe a couple of blank pages for notes to add interesting information such as ways to grow and feed sprouts - *thanks Linda).

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Buster Brown is a Momma's Boy

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OK, I know I shouldn't encourage it and I try not to. I really do. But he is so sweet. He climbs down my shirt and snuggles up close to me. He makes the tiniest little bruxing sounds and sometimes he peeks out and looks right at me and I can see in his face that he feels safe and happy. He is just different than the other boys.

He likes to play. He'll even rough-house and wrassle sometimes, but most of the time he likes to snuggle. And what's wrong with that, anyway?!

I love my tiny little momma's boy. When he gets a little older his dark points should become somewhat more noticeable. Isn't he a pretty boy?


Oggie is a nut. He is the one who makes me laugh the most. He is this little, tiny Black-eyed Siamese rat who thinks he is something else. He kind of reminds me of the Walter Mitty character. I imagine him having dreams of himself as a spy as he peers out of the blanket trying to sneak up on your hand or a space cowboy when he launches himself off of some high perch into the air. Climbing the backscratcher he is an aerialist performer. He goes so fast that almost every picture of him has motion blur. Even when everyone else is in focus.

John found a way to make him zoom. Oggie likes to stare at people. I don't know why exactly. If John looks at Oggie when Oggie is staring at him and says "Oggie!", he will race around like he just got caught in the act.

I used to roll over during the night and would wake up with some sense of being looked at. I would look over at the cage next to the bed and there would be odd, little Oggie looking at me.

Oggie loves the big boys. It was love at first site. I think his brother, Buster, is a little too tame for him. He likes to chase them and harass them until they have to catch him and turn him over and power groom him. And then he hops up and starts it all over again.

When Oggie gets older the dark points on his nose and rump should be more evident. One breeder I spoke with said that she didn't breed Black-eyed Siamese because of temperment issues. She obviously never met Oggie!


Rat naming is a royal pain in the ass. It seems like it would be easy but there are several criteria which must be followed:
  • the name must fit the rat
  • it must be easy to say
  • it must not sound too much like another rat's name
  • it cannot have any unfortunate connotations or connections
In addition to that, all the good names have already been taken, so finding a unique name adds a whole nuther layer. Sometimes names that seem good on a cognitive level just don't fit on an emotional level. And sometimes after a week or so it just isn't right anymore.

Some rats resist telling you their names. Perhaps it is because of some superstition that if you know their name you will have power over them. Perhaps it is because their real true name is unpronouncable in human-speak. I don't know. Some rats tell you right off, others prefer to be mysterious.

Such was the case with Otis and Bunnyman. No names sounded right. For the longest time they were the blue boy and the scruffy boy.

So we finally ended up with the name Otis because he's a blue agouti and we decided to name him after a blue's singer. (actually his full name is Otis "Bobblehead" Brown, most of our animals have Brown as a last name. No, I have no idea why.)

I thought he should be Stevie because he does this odd Stevie Wonder move with his head, sort of swaying it back and forth. (I have heard of pink and red-eyed rats doing that to see better, but he has black eyes so I'm not sure why he does it). Otis seemed to be the first name of several well-known blue's singers and then I had a dream conversation where someone said the name should be Otis. Maybe my subconscious was sick of thinking up new names. Anyway, that clinched it.

Otis is an interesting little guy. He is very sweet and very playful. He is the one who loves to hand-wrestle the most. Sometimes he will do little, gentle play nips and then run away like crazy and then run back for more wrestling. He loves to be scritched and will scrunch up his eyes and hold very still.


Well, I got a little ahead of myself and already introduced you to Bunnyman, so i guess its time for you to meet the rest of the boys.

When my sweetheart Penelope died I was really depressed. She and I had a special connection that is hard to explain. While I love all of my girls, none of the ones who remain are especially people-oriented. Dinky is the sweetest and most affectionate of the lot, but she is still sort of shy and would rather hide out than hang out.

I decided to get another pair of rats. Boys this time so that we wouldn't have the tumor issues that have plagued the girls and because I wanted to experience a group of boys.

I contacted a couple of breeders to let them know I was interested, Linda B. of the Crafty Rat in San Jose and Connie Perez of Rat Genesis in San Francisco.

Linda had some adorable blue dumbo boys that would be ready soon and arranged a play date so that we could meet our prospective adoptees when they were 3 weeks old.

Right after I heard from Linda, I heard from Connie. She had pictures of some beautiful Burmese and black-eyed Siamese and Himalayan pups that would be available. I somehow convinced John that we should get one of these guys too, but then realized that one would be lonely during quarantine, so it should really be two. (hmmm.... you see the pattern here???)

I was so anxious for our first play date that I couldn't stand it. Every day I was counting down how many days were left before I could go. When I got there I met Linda in person and she invited me in. Rat heaven. Three cages of adorable baby rats. One was the blue litter, one was a down-under litter and another litter had just been born with more potential down-unders. I played with the boys and girls in the blue litter. It was hilarious the way they swam out of their cage. I really enjoyed talking to Linda, very knowledgable, funny and down-to-earth. She handed me a little agouti-hooded rex guy from the other litter. He curled up on me and started bruxing. I fell in love with him right then but I figured he must already be spoken for. On the next play date the same thing, came out, cuddled up and started bruxing as soon as I petted him. I tentatively asked if he was available. Linda said "Well, I hadn't told anyone about this litter, but yes, he's available." That was it. I knew Bunnyman was coming home with me. I still couldn't decide which of the blue boys was the one, though. They were all cute and sweet and playful. John came with me on the second playdate and fell in love with a little blue agouti hooded guy, Otis.

I told Connie the personality types I was most interested in and let her choose which boys to bring. We met midway at the San Mateo train station. It was also the first time I had met her in person. I have admired her knowledge and kindness on the list serves where she posts and it was nice to have the chance to meet her.

Oggie and Buster were so tiny. With their big eyes and ears, they almost looked like little mice. Initially they were shy, but soon warmed up to us.

We introduced the two pairs of boys after they had both had a chance to settle in and they bonded immediately. No huffing, puffing or posturing from anybody. In fact, the two bigger boys of Linda's seem to realize that they need to play a little bit more gently with the little guys and are very tolerant of Oggie's relentless Kamikaze attacks on them.


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