The four musketeers

Cally and Jenna were about 18 months old when we decided it was time to think about the next generation. We didn’t want a situation where we had a lone girl again, so we started looking for rescue girls. We tried a well-known animal rescue centre which shall remain nameless, but their complicated application process coupled with their apparent lack of knowledge about the animals in their care put us off.

So I looked on the forum I’d recently joined, which has an active rehoming section, and found a group of 4 girls. They’d been in a home where they’d had little proper handling or socialising, but the children had poked them through the cage bars with pens/pencils so they were nervous of contact (and especially of anything coming through the bars). We made arrangements with the rescue to meet at Milton Keynes Park & Ride to collect them one Saturday morning in May 2006. In the meantime we had to think of names. I wanted to call them daft things like Honey and Porridge but I was vetoed, as usual. So I went through the index of a book of Greek and Roman mythology, and came up with Leda, Lyra, Aurora and Selene.

They were some of the prettiest rats I’d ever seen. They’d been at the rescue for about a month so were getting used to humans again, but were still nervous. At the time we lived in a bungalow which was way too small for us but had been the best of a bad bunch, and the cages were squeezed into the living/dining room, so they were around us all the time which was a great help with getting them accustomed to noises, voices and so on. They were never keen on being picked up but gradually got used to the idea of coming out of the cage for a run. We were never too sure how old they were – Leda, Lyra and Aurora looked fully grown, but Selene looked very babyish and never really appeared to age.

All four musketeers harassing their daddy. Aurora is on his arm. The others, l-r: Leda, Lyra, Selene.

Leda, Selene and Lyra. Aurora seems to have been more camera shy than the other three.

After a few weeks we started trying to intro them to Cally and Jenna – after all, this was the point of having them. As I said in the Cally and Jenna chapter, it went badly at first. We were used to intros going well, and this was a struggle. Much of the tension was between the two older girls and Aurora, for some reason.

At the same time, they were growing more confident around us. The most dramatic change was Selene – she went from being so nervous she would back away at speed if you put your hand near her, to being invariably the first one out of the cage at playtime. Sometimes I would get in from work and she’d be the only one up, and she would come out of the cage and sit on the back of my neck, bruxing away like mad.

Selene

A couple of months after getting the four girls, we moved to a bigger house and renewed our efforts at introductions. We got there eventually, much to our relief, and the six all settled down. Cally and Jenna were approaching two years old and starting to show their age. The other girls must have been getting on for 18 months by this time as they started to need treating for benign lumps (especially Aurora and Lyra). But they had a good Xmas with us, enjoying their presents, and as we headed into 2007 all seemed fairly predictable – the older girls starting to slow down and get lumpy, and by early summer we’d be thinking about the next generation.

In February little Selene suddenly became ill. It may have been a pituitary tumour, though our vet thought it was caused by a head injury. She became wobbly and unco-ordinated. Steroids gave her some relief but not for long, and after a couple of weeks we made the decision to have her put to sleep. The girls had started a habit of drinking from their water bottles upside down, while hanging off a nearby ledge or shelf. Being so much smaller than the others, it was easy to see how Selene might have fallen while trying to reach down to the bottle, and landed on her head. We’ll never be sure, of course.

Selene with her favourite chew toy - old corks.

With her little bouncy friend gone, Leda went into a sharp decline with some similar symptoms to Selene’s and died about a month later. We had an appointment at the vet’s but she went of her own accord – the first time this had happened to us. At the time I had a colleague whose husband is an animal bone specialist with a reference collection of skeletons. He lacked a Rattus norvegicus, so Leda was donated to science.

Leda. Always the quiet one.

Another month later we lost Aurora, to a tumour which a previous vet had faffed about with but not removed despite our insistence, and which became inoperable. The previous week we had collected two new baby girls from the same rescue, but were waiting on intros until they had settled in. With Cally and Jenna becoming old and grumpy we decided to wait a little longer, especially as we had a holiday coming up.

Aurora. Just about the only way to photograph her was to give her something to eat and hope she'd sit still somewhere visible.

Cally, Jenna and Lyra went to one set of friends while we were away, and the two babies, Halo and Evey, went to another. On our return we could see that C & J wouldn’t be around much longer, and in fact they made their last trip to the vet the following week. I didn’t want to rush intros with Lyra as I didn’t know how she would react, but the next day after she had her run, when I got Halo and Evey out for theirs she sat by the cage door looking lost and lonely so I got her out again. She was, I think, just pleased not to be alone, having lost 5 cagemates in the space of a few months. A couple of days later we had the three all together in the big cage and took on two new rescues, Sigma and Tau, and within a few more weeks there were 5 girls in the big cage. On the whole a happy group – though Lyra, in the first few weeks, tired of Halo following her everywhere. Lyra was clearly alpha, and remained so once Sigma and Tau moved in, with Sigma as her second.

Probably my favourite picture of Lyra - that I took, anyway. Curled up tight in a hammock.

And the best pic of Lyra ever, taken by Jem who rat-sat her while we were on holiday.

During her time with us Lyra had 3 benign tumours removed. Our vet knew her and she clearly recognised him – he always made fuss of her, and she seemed to like him too. She wasn’t a particularly affectionate rat but she was even-tempered; the only time I ever saw her get a little cross was with Halo in the early days of that group. Halo adored her and trailed round after her, and that seemed to get a bit much for her on occasion. But on balance she was an easy rat to intro, and was very accepting of others. Eventually she began to show signs of hind leg degeneration, and after doing what we could to keep her comfortable, the time to let go came in late Oct 2007. The others were quiet and subdued for a few days afterwards. Lyra was one of those whose passing leaves a bigger hole than you expect.

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