Towards the end of April 2007, about 10 days before Aurora died, we made another of those ‘furtive handover in car parks’ appointments to collect two little girls from the same rescue which had supplied us with the Four Musketeers. This time the location was Toddington services, on the M1 near Luton. The girls we were collecting were about 6 weeks old and were black hoodies. We hadn’t had little babies for a while and as ever when we find ourselves in that situation, there was a great deal of attitude adjustment. When you have had a rat or group of rats for nearly two years, unless they have dramatically slowed down due to illness, their aging is almost imperceptible. You think they are still pretty fast and agile… and then you get some babies, and you remember how your old guys used to be.
Halo and Evey were named after two Alan Moore heroines, Halo Jones (The Ballad of Halo Jones) and Evey Hammond (V For Vendetta). True to their names, they grew into strong personalities, but sadly were only with us for a short time. It’s hard to believe they left us so quickly.
At first they lived in the small cage and didn’t meet the older girls – even after Aurora’s death, we didn’t want to put Cally and Jenna through an intro to babies as they were getting on, and had struggled with intros before. A couple of weeks after Aurora died we were going on holiday, and we dropped Halo and Evey off with a friend who had a young litter, a couple of weeks younger than our girls, so our two spent the week with them. At the end of the week we discovered that our girls had been teaching the little ones the art of scrambling upside down across the top of the cage, so that must have been fun for them.
Within a few days of our return, Cally and Jenna had died and Lyra was alone so we introduced her to Halo and Evey. To begin with, she accepted them on the basis that it was better than being alone but they adored her and followed her everywhere – I sometimes spotted a rather long-suffering look on her face. Within another week or two we had adopted a second pair, Sigma and Tau, 12 months old, so the group grew again and this took some of the pressure off Lyra. It seemed that Halo and Evey learned reasonable behaviour from Lyra, but as later events showed, for Evey at least this wasn’t to last.
But they grew well and were healthy and happy. No problems with handling, they enjoyed our company and their playtimes out of the cage. Over the next 6 months we had a good, well mixed bunch. Lyra was getting old, however, and succumbed to lumps and hind leg degeneration at the end of October. A few days earlier we had acquired Tallulah and Zelda, so after Lyra’s death we began the intro game again and after some argy-bargy (mainly between Tallulah and Sigma) they settled down. Tallulah died from a pituitary tumour after only 2 months and we very quickly took on a lone girl, Roxie, and this was where things started to fall apart.
To a large degree I blame myself. I was upset at the loss of Tallulah and felt guilty, so when I saw a rehoming ad for this lone girl I jumped, without really thinking. I’ll get to Roxie’s tale in full in due course but for now let’s just say she had problems. She had been alone for most of her 6 months and had no idea how to behave around others. At first we put her with Tau who was very placid and accepting, then with Halo who was the next calmest and pretty unthreatening. We tried her with the whole group at playtimes, partly so her companion would get to see her other friends and (we hoped) not feel punished by being caged with this badly socialised stranger. Eventually we progressed to having all of them in one cage but Roxie would pick fights and challenge everyone – including Zelda, the alpha and three times Roxie’s size. So there were frequent ‘breaks’ when Roxie was separated and caged with Tau or Halo. And then Halo became ill.
She and Evey were only just over a year old, but had put on a lot of weight – though the others were all fine. We tried the usual remedies – checking for hoarded food, keeping everyone on as healthy a diet as possible, making sure they had a good run at playtime – but nothing seemed to help. Whether the illness was related I have no idea, but Halo started to become unsteady and had trouble eating. We swapped her to a single level cage and soft foods, and put Evey and Roxie with her (I couldn’t leave Roxie with Sigma, as we had started finding injuries on Sig and suspected Roxie). Within a day or so she had had some kind of seizure and died.
So Roxie and Evey went back with the others and the problems continued. Then a friend got in touch to say she had two young girls needing a home, and were we interested? We thought, what a good idea – two babies, Roxie can be their alpha and will need all her energy keeping control of them. Great.
Of course, it didn’t work. Whenever we tried to intro she attacked them and for us the most distressing thing was that she seemed to encourage Evey to attack them too. They were definitely ganging up on these two little ones. On some occasions we saw Zelda step in to protect the babies, but we were upset that Evey was being drawn into that kind of behaviour. Whether it had anything to do with illness I don’t know, but in August 2008 she developed the same kind of symptoms that Tallulah had shown and we realised that she too had a pituitary tumour.
So it all seems to have been very downbeat. We took them on with such high hopes, and it ended sadly. Sometimes that’s the way. They had a good life – they were comfortable and had company – and in the end that’s sometimes all we can give them. But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I didn’t like them – they were lovely girls, very smart, and could be very affectionate. Good at getting to where you didn’t want them to be, then looking all innocent when you caught them. For most of the time they spent with us they were part of a well-integrated group. It’s just that sometimes I look back and think that I could have done better.