After Ash’s untimely demise we realised that if no new rats were introduced to the group, we would soon be back to square one. Heidi was rapidly approaching 3 years old and beginning to show it, and we didn’t want a lone rat situation again. We returned to Weston to see Estelle and adopted Iona and Thalia.
Thalia had had one litter a few months previously. She was a gorgeous Burmese rex and looked like a little teddy bear. Iona, meanwhile, hadn’t been bred by Estelle but had come from another breeder, the plan being to introduce some Russian blue into Estelle’s lines. With a stubbornness which we soon learned to love, Iona firmly refused to become pregnant. She was a beautiful colour, and she was also a mismarked Irish. Irish should be a neat white triangle on the chest, whereas Iona looked as though she’d dribbled toothpaste. She had lost the tip of her tail as a baby, so I tended to refer to her as ‘Stumpy’ because even though she still had most of the tail it looked odd without the graceful taper at the end.
Initial intros went much as before, and all four were soon in the big cage together. There was tension between Jet and Iona, but that didn’t last. All four seemed to settle down and get on well together. After a couple of months, Heidi was obviously near the end and at that point Thalia began bothering her, in such a way that we decided it was best to separate them for a while. Iona and Thalia went into the spare cage for the next week or so, then once Heidi was gone they were quickly reunited with Jet. This time there was no trouble between Jet and Iona, and in fact it soon seemed that Thalia saw herself as the next in line for Alpha status which was a bit of a surprise to us.
As always, there were radically different personalities on show. Iona was sharp and intelligent, almost calculating, and a complete mischief magnet. She loved a good explore, as did Jet, while Thalia wasn’t so bothered but would do almost anything to avoid having her picture taken. Some friends came to visit us one weekend and despite our warnings, one tried poking his nose through the cage bars – Iona tried biting him, which only worked for a moment, so when the nose reappeared she sat and looked at him for a moment, clearly considering her options, then sneezed in his face, and as he staggered backwards she sat there looking pleased with herself. Thalia was always much more friendly and affectionate and loved attention and fussings, usually while Iona was busy looking for something to claim as hers.
In early 2005 we went back to see Estelle to collect our first new babies for a few years – Cally and Jenna, who just happened to be the daughters of Thalia’s half-sister. To begin with we kept the little ones separate as Jet was getting old and grumpy and we didn’t want to cause her any upset, but the plan was always to get them into the big cage with the others at a convenient time.
At Easter of 2005 we had our first scare with Thalia, when she developed breathing difficulties and had to be rushed to the emergency vet. She seemed to recover, however, but we kept a close eye on things. Meanwhile Jet had gone to join Heidi and Ash, so the younger girls were introduced to the older ones – much to Thalia’s disgust. She had clearly been looking forward to becoming the senior of two, and the prospect of having a couple of bouncy kids to keep in line was not a happy one. The intros were a little screechy at times but eventually things calmed down, just in time for Iona to get ill.
We realised one day she had a lump on her snout. X-rays confirmed it was a bony tumour, and unsurprisingly things didn’t go well. She managed for a while but eventually it got too much for her. Three blues in a row had gone early or suddenly, and we started to feel that blues were bad luck for us. We haven’t had one since, though to be fair we haven’t been offered any.
Thalia was fine with her nieces for a while, then began to have breathing troubles again. Our vet diagnosed congestive heart failure, which meant a strict medication regimen – she did at least take her meds, and her condition improved a good deal, but she was getting on a bit now and starting to develop mammary tumours. Because of the other health issues we couldn’t get the tumours removed, poor girl. Repeated trips to the vet’s became stressful for her, so when we decided to move to another part of the country we felt the journey would cause her too much suffering. She went back to Weston to live out what remained of her time at Estelle’s. I still think of her as my little teddy bear – she was so fluffy and cuddly.