It was a cold day in early March of 2002, when Hurkie and Ruggie first entered my life. I was working in my back yard down by the fire pit and my dog Baby, the Pitbull, was digging in the dirt like she usually did, much to my dismay.
She kept digging and digging this gigantic hole, up near the wooden fence, next to the house. I yelled up at her, "Baby stop it." She stopped, turned and looked at me, then went back to her digging. She picked up something from the hole and was shaking it in her mouth. Then she dropped it on the ground and stuck her nose back into the hole and pulled out something else with her mouth and started shaking it. I stopped what I was doing and went up to investigate.
There on the ground I found a pile of little dead creatures, all chewed up. They weren't any bigger then the size of my little finger. At first I thought they were baby mice, but then I looked at their tails. They reminded me of a possum's tail.
I picked through the pile of small creatures to see if they were all dead, there were six of them. I looked over at the hole where Baby had been digging and noticed pieces of chewed up cardboard box toward the backside of the hole. I looked into the hole and saw something moving. I reached down inside the hole with my hand and pulled out another one of the creatures that Baby had killed, but this one was still alive. I looked in the hole again, and saw another little creature trying hard to dig itself deeper into the back of the hole. I pulled it out too. I held the tiny little things in the palm of my hand. I decided they must be baby rats, though I had never seen a real rat before, having just moved from the city suburbs to the country.
I took the two small rats into the house with me. I found a cardboard box and put some towels into the bottom of it. I put the box full of towels in the bottom of my bathtub and went to the computer room and got online to the Internet. I did a web search using a metacrawler search engine, looking for information about the care of wild rats. I printed off what I found and sat at the kitchen table reading through everything. After I read all of the articles I headed up to Meijers to get the supplies the articles said I would need. Puppy replacement formula and a small eye dropper.
I came back from Meijers and prepared a batch of the puppy replacement formula and divided it into little dishes that I sealed and put in the freezer. I grabbed a little dish of the milk I'd prepared and the eye dropper and went into the bathroom. This is where the fun began. The following information is from the actual entries I wrote into a journal while I was attempting to raise Hurkie and Ruggie.
March 8, 2002
I rescued two baby rats from Baby today. I'm going to try and see if I can raise them with the help of some information I found on the Internet.
Ok, I'm back from the store with the stuff they said to buy. I'm going to go get one of them and see if I can get it to drink some of this formula I just made up. It's thick and smells terrible. I wouldn't want to drink it, yek!
What a hassle, the darn eye dropper tip is bigger than the opening to their little mouths. I felt like I was shoving it right down their throats! I got them to each drink a little. I don't know how much to give them. I don't know if I'm under feeding them or over feeding them.
I took a cue-tip swab and dipped it in warm water and stroked their undersides with it after I fed them so that is felt like their mother's warm tongue. The article said I would have to do this each time I fed them because they wouldn't be able to go to bathroom on their own. I hope I did it long enough. They didn't care for it much. So I guess they know this is not their mama's tongue.
6:00pm Feeding time again. The article said to feed them every two to two and a half hours. Since I don't know if I'm giving them enough to eat I'm going to try feeding them every two hours.
Trying to get the milk warmed up to a temperature they can tolerate after it has been refrigerated is proving to be a hardship. I have to set the container in extremely hot water in the sink and keep stirring it and taking some from the eye dropper and putting in on the back of my wrist. Then the formula gets cold very quickly.
They are on to me. They don't like this whole process. They are starting to squirm in my hands when I try and hold them. If they even last a day it will be a miracle at the rate I'm going.
Ok, I think I finally got some formula down both of them. Their bellies are transparent, you can see right through them. I can see their stomach and where the milk is going. I just don't know how full this area is suppose to be. Since they don't want the milk to begin with they can't tell me when they've had enough.
Time to try to feed them again. I can see this is going to be taking up a lot of my time. I'm going to have to take some time off from work just to raise these little squirts. Well, they didn't fuss as much this time, maybe they are getting used to the process and the taste of the milk. I've added a little more water to it so it isn't as thick as it was. They seem to like that better, but now I worry they won't be getting enough nutrients.
March 9, 2002
I didn't sleep worth a darn last night. I kept worrying about them and making sure I kept on my feeding schedule of every two hours. Sometimes it was even less than that because I just didn't feel like I was giving them enough to eat. They don't take the eye dropper very easily. I have to actually use my thumbnail to get them to open their mouths, they are very stubborn.
March 10, 2002
I've taken the rest of the week off to raise these little guys. I didn't even try to explain why I needed the time off I was just glad I was able to get it or these little rats would have died. Well, they may still die if I screw something up. On one feeding I almost gagged one of them. I think I got the formula down their windpipe, it was coming out of their nose. It was a real close call.
March 11, 2002
They are doing good, though they seem to be losing weight and I don't know what to do about it. Their fur is in now. They are really pretty. Their ears are starting to develop. I think their eyes will be opening soon too. I'm still not sleeping worth a darn. Now I know how a mother with a new born baby feels when it keeps waking up to be fed all night long. Sometimes my eyes are half open when I go to feed them.
March 12, 2002 Nothing to report today. Everything is going smoothly. They are now grabbing a hold of the eye dropper in their little paws and trying to hold it. They also have established a certain position they like to be in when I feed them. They don't like being on their backs, they like it when I hold them upright and they hang their arms over my thumb. They are actually starting to suck the milk from the eye dropper which is making the process much easier on me.
March 13, 2002 Their eyes are starting to open. This is exciting! I didn't think I would ever get this far. I thought they'd be dead by now, but they are survivors for sure. They are still very thin. I don't think they are getting all the nutrients from this formula that they need. I hope they don't get too malnourished before I can get them on solid food.
I noticed two tiny little bottom teeth coming in. I might be able to give them some bread crumbs to chew on soon.
They are tolerating me when I clean their undersides after they eat. I think they understand what I'm trying to do. Getting them to go pee is easy, but getting them to poop is still a time consuming process.
March 14, 2002
Their eyes are opened! They are looking right at me this morning. What a feeling that was. Them being able to see is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is they can see the eye dropper now and can grab right a hold of it for their feeding, the bad thing is they are starting to explore everything and climb on things. I hope they don't get out of the bathtub.
March 15, 2002
I have thought of names for these little squirts. I'm naming them Hurkie and Ruggie. Hurkie is short for Hercules. She is so strong. She can use her upper arm strength to pull herself up and out of her box or onto objects she wants to explore. I named the other one Ruggie, because she is my little rugrat, literally. Whenever I take her out and put her on the rug at the bottom of the bathtub she automatically goes to the bathroom on it and in the same spot each time. It's similar to house breaking a puppy I guess.
March 16, 2002
They are eating solid food now and drinking their formula from a dish. Boy does that make it easier. No more feedings in the middle of the night. No more cleaning them afterwards.
They like hiding inside my shirt and my sleeve. I've put a couple of layers on underneath for them to climb around on. I'm starting to walk around the house with them inside my shirt, hoping they won't fall out.
March 17, 2002
They are starting to get into mischief. I've had to block the bottom of the bathroom doors off because little miss strong one, Hurkie is now able to jump out of her housing tub and even out of the bathtub. I found her hiding behind the wastepaper basket near the toilet. I put a lid on the tub and they have managed to chew their way out of the bottom of the plastic tub. I've put a piece a metal where they chewed and duct taped it shut, but they must spend all night working on finding a new place to get out at. They are destroying their housing unit.
March 22, 2002
It has been a couple of days since I wrote in this journal. Everything is going good, but it is getting harder and harder for me to keep my rat friends confined into one area. I can't have them running around in the bathroom unattended all day and night because they are chewing on things they shouldn't be. I've had to move their tub housing unit into my glass shower stall.
March 25, 2002
I knew it was just a matter of time. They managed to chew their way out of the shower unit. At the bottom is a strip of rubber molding used to keep water from splashing out on the floor. Well there isn't much molding left now. I've had to duct tape that all closed. I think their mission in life now is to see how they can out smart me and find a way around me trying to keep them confined into a small area until I'm there to watch what they are doing.
March 26, 2002
If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it. Little Hurkie has managed to jump from her housing unit, up to the water faucets, up to the ledge where I keep my shampoo bottle and up to the top of the shower unit. I found her up there walking around. This is amazing agility.
March 27, 2002
Ok, now we have a problem. She has gotten brave enough to jump all the way from the top of the shower unit down to the floor. I found her running around on the bathroom floor when I got up this morning. When she saw me she ran to the bottom of the shower unit and was trying to get back in it. She knew she was in trouble. She can get out but doesn't know how to get back in.
April 5, 2002
Well, I guess their days of living in my bathroom are gone. I went and bought a 30 gallon glass aquarium and a wire mesh lid for it. I have moved them into the computer room. I really miss them at night when I'm in the bathroom getting ready for bed and they aren't there bugging me.
April 23, 2002
I was in the pet store today and saw two pretty rats they were selling for snake food. I bought both of them. A male and a female. I love my rats so much I want more of them. I've named my new rats Tanner and Camie. Tanner is Champagne color and Camie is a Beige. She has a very unique white V that goes around her left eye. She is really sweet.
This completes my story of how I found and raised Hurkie and Ruggie and how I got into raising rats and establishing my rattery.Special Note:
I got very attached to Hurkie and Ruggie during the short time they were here with me. They bonded very closely with me. They were very loving and affectionate toward me, which I found so amazing for a wild animal. Eventually I moved them from the aquarium to a large wire cage with a warm cozy hanging hammock, toys, a running wheel and a hut to sleep in. They were very spoiled. I would open up the cage door and open the layers of my shirt and they would jump right in. They would ride around inside my shirt peeking out.
They wouldn't let anyone else hold them but me, the bond was that tight. Hurkie even jumped from the shoulder of a friend of mine, back over to me and snuggled inside my shirt looking out. Noises always caused a reaction of running and hiding, so I always kept things quiet around them. They were never mean. They never bit me or anyone else. If they got scared they would just run and hide. They were gentle inquisitive creatures.
Hurkie passed over to the rainbow bridge on December 15th 2003 and Ruggie joined her sister there on May 1st 2004. I miss both of them terribly. I will never forget them or the unconditional love they gave me. I was so blessed to be allowed to experience getting close to such amazing creatures. A chapter in my life has now closed.