Don’t buy, Adopt! Takes on a new meaning for me

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So far I never had a breed dog or a cat (or any animal). My first dog was bought by my parents (I didn’t have any say in it, they gave me her as a present) from my dad’s mechanic. It was not responsible breeding but it also wan not a puppy mill. Two neighbours had giant schnautzer type of dogs and decided to breed them. My other dogs are/were adopted or found on a street. Most of my cats were found by me or my friends, and two were adopted. I am not against buying dogs or cats from good breeders, it is a personal decision and I might have a breed dog one day too, I don’t know.

I would never buy a dog in a pet store or from a mass production breeder. I have reported pet stores selling dogs and I think it should be illegal….

I needed to say all of that first before I get to my rats.

Knowing all of the above I went and bought two rats at a pet store. Why was I so stupid to think that it would be any different? Maybe because it is a small store, close to my house, they don’t (didn’t) have rats often and they told me they are getting them from a guy who breeds his rats from time to time. I think all of the above was me rationalising my stupid decision. I just wanted those two particular rats. Why, I don’t know. I went there every day to look at them and couldn’t stop thinking about them. So even though I knew I should not buy animals in a store I got them.

First week went pretty good, we had a nice cage with cool toys and hammocks for them. One rat (Eddie) was outgoing and playful, the other one (Freddie) was fearful but improving every day. At the end of the week on Sunday they were both running on our bed while we enjoyed coffee.

However, somewhere half way through the first week we started to have doubts. They told us that Eddie was a male but his testicles didn’t drop and that a vet said he might have to have operation but we have to wait and see (a vet never saw him but I found out that later).

On Friday I went to a store and ask the manager whether it is possible that someone made a mistake and Eddie is indeed a female (too me and Jochem he looked very female). I was told that no it’s not possible (the manger actually haven’t check herself but trusted her employees). I still made an appointment to the vet to check.

On Monday I took both of the rats to the vet (in hindsight I should have not taken Freddie, but I thought he might need a health check) and yes Eddie was officially a female now. This changed everything. Rats had to be separated just in case she wasn’t pregnant yet and we had to start planning for possible litter (they are brother and sister which complicates things even more).

Freddie was so stressed by the separation and trip to the vet he stayed in his house all the time. He would take food from my hand from time to time but woud not go outside.

One of the options we were considering was a sterilisation of Eddie (possibly with an abortion). We made an appointment with a vet specialist. She was a bit too young (18 weeks from what they have told us) but the vet said she can be operated on. Half way through the day I was called by the clinic and told that Eddie is too small to be operated on. So again we were in the starting point.

As soon as I found out about her gender I started contacting non profit organisations for rats to ask for advice. No one replied, till finally on Wednesday I got hold of someone who gave me a number to a women who was taking care of rats for adoption. She was a great help from the first moment. She told me that Eddie might have problems with giving birth because she is so young and we might not be able to provide proper care as we don’t have experience with pregnant rats. We made an appointment to bring her our rats on Thursday so she can take them to another vet specialist on Friday.

We had to rent a car and Jochem had to take another day off work. Eddie, even though she went through as much as Freddie was still confident and outgoing. Freddie on the other hand was still really scared. I had to pick him up to transfer him into a traveling box and he was terrified, trying ot het our and squeaking. It broke my heart 😦

The place where we brought our rats was fantastic. Half of a wall downstairs was lined up with huge professional cages all furnished with toys, tunnels and hammocks. Upstairs there was a whole room filled with rats, also in awesome cages and a play room for rats. Alle the rats were well taken care of and very friendly. We discussed our possibilities. First of all our rats are not 18 weeks old but max 10! So no wonder Eddie was too small for an operation. We decided that for now both rats will stay there. Eddie till we either know if she is pregnant or till she gives birth and rises her babies. Freddie because the lady was hoping she can find a male friend for him. Because he is so small he cannot be paired with an adult rat.

Three days have passed and Eddie was checked by a doctor, and they couldn’t feel anything so she is either not pregnant or just very recently pregnant. We will have to wait for three weeks to know for sure. Freddie is still alone and very afraid. None of the other rat “shelters” or even reputable breeders have young males. He CANNOT be alone in his state and this time of his life. So we will have to make some difficult decisions.

We will pick him (and maybe Eddie) today. I have to start an intense process of socialising him with us. I never did that with a rat but I will use my knowledge about dogs and animals in general. If there is one thing I know is how to be patient with a fearful animal.

So yes, please never ever make my mistake and buy pets in a pet store!

Freddie (top) and Eddie (bottom)

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Thorndike and Skinner in the house!

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So we got rats yesterday πŸ™‚ I don’t know what go into me but for last few weeks I was obsessed with rats and I could not let go.

For some reason my partner allowed my madness to develop and somehow I made him believe that getting two new pets is a good idea. As a kid I kept all sorts of animals from mice to oysters (yes I had pet oysters… and snails and spiders). I got my first rat when I was in primary school, I bought him behind me parents back and kept him under my bed for the first week (it was a high bed so he had enough space). His name was Mati and he was a hooded rat with serious skin problems. He was allergic to dairy and animal protein. Back then vets didn’t really know much about rat health so I looked for specialists but special diet was the only remedy. He was a nice rat, would travel on my shoulder and learned how to open every cage. he also hated men and my dog but was really sweet to women.

And now 17 years later I have rats again. Now I know that they are very social and should live with another rat ( I do feel bad about keeping Mati alone). We have to 4 months old males Edward Lee Thorndike (who is more outgoing) and B. F. Skinner (who is a bit shy). In short we refer to them as Eddy and Freddy πŸ˜‰

It hasn’t been 24 hours since they are here so we are giving them space to get used to their new home. For now they are in the bedroom and they haven’t met our dogs yet (dogs got their box to smell). I’m already slowly working on their trust, yesterday with pink grape (works good against cancer) and today with small piece of broccoli which Eddy took from my hand πŸ™‚

Yesterday night I was reading out loud to Jochem with rats in the room, they were eating at that moment so I’m hoping that they will associate my voice with food (through classical conditioning).

I’m so excited to ge to know those little guys.

Difficult times ahead

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Chili’s fear of vets got stronger (no wonder as I didn’t have any time to desensitise her) and now when I’m finally about to start working on it she has an ear problem again. It’s really bad luck. Changing the way she feels about vets will take really long time either way and now on top of this we will have to take her to the vet to get her ears checked first. I made an appointment on a day when a female doctor is working and in early morning so there are not too many people and Jochem can come with me. Hopefully she will feel more secure with both of us there. We will carry her in the exam room as last time she didn’t want to walk in there and I don’t want to struggle with her more than necessary.

Once this visit is done I will start behaviour modification plan based mostly on systematic desensitisation and counterconditioning. As she is generally anxious (in novel situations) I will have to start with working on our way to the clinic. We have to walk there (she is afraid of cars and we don’t have one, and she gets over aroused in trams) and when she has a worse day she will become anxious already on the way. So I will have to make sure that we are working under the threshold which means before she starts to show any signs of stress or anxiety. The next step will be getting her feeling relaxed by the door of the clinic (as she refused to go inside last time), then the reception area (slowly each part will be worked on separately) and eventually the exam room but I think it will take at least two months before we get to that stage. It will all depend on Chili and how she is dealing with it.

The important part is to not get her too aroused and stressed as in this situation her learning will be compromised. Additionally if she has other stressful experiences they might add up together Β and make her react faster and stronger than she normally would. It’s called trigger stacking. It is really easy to understand from a human perspective. Last week I was flying back from the UK, I didn’t get enough sleep (one trigger), I lost my phone (another trigger) I could not fin my boyfriend at the airport (trigger as I was really tired and wanted to go home) by that time I was ready to explode even in situations that normally wouldn’t make me feel edgy. The same happens with dogs, and anxious dogs like Chili will be more sensitive to everyday life stressors. (For more info see “Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for dogs and cats” by Karen Overall).

Sunday fun

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It’s been a very calm day so far, girls were sleeping off their morning walks and I was cleaning. I decided to treat them to a little search game with empty egg containers, envelopes and oat meal boxes. I rolled a bit of their kibble in empty envelopes which I then placed in an empty egg box. And just for a bit more difficulty I put the egg containers in an empty oat meat box. They love this game πŸ™‚

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Accept your dog

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Sometimes we just stumble upon right text at a right time. For me today it is a blog post about accepting the dog you have:

http://blog.chako.org/accept-the-dog-you-have/

I had a conversation about exactly this topic minutes before I saw this post.

I think that (I hope) I do accept my dogs the way they are most the time but sometimes I just forget.

Today we had a situation with Chili that made me forget and wish she was different. Even though when I’m thinking about it now, and when I was there in the moment I didn’t think it was very bad I think that in my head I made it worse that it was.
We were in the park with Salma and Chili and an older gentleman with a hound female German shepherd mix approached us from behind. The dog was curious and young and she wanted to come up to our dogs, she met Salma first and while they were sniffing each other Chili run up to them and tried to displace the other dog. She jumped up twice to make herself taller and growled. The dog didn’t move, they continued to sniff and separated. We stayed behind and the shepherd and his owner continued on. I threw a ball behind us for Chili, I didn’t think the other dog will turn back and run after her. But she did and Chili got pissed. I can’t be sure but I think I heard the other dog growl when she couldn’t catch Chili and then Chili got angry and chased her away. It was loud but short and from where I was standing it didn’t seem dangerous. But the shepherd run away and didn’t want to come back (even though we walked away). She did come back after a while and they continued walking but I feel so bad that Chili scared her. If she didn’t run away I wouldn’t consider this as a serious fight but she must have been scared. And the thing is Chili isn’t really protective of her toys, she usually will spit them out when other dogs are around or just ignore them that’s why I wasn’t careful with throwing her ball in the park.

I can’t forget that Chili always will be a nervous dog never mind how much work I will put in her.

Additionally she got spooked by people just before we got in the park which I think could add up to her nervousness.

I have to remember that she is wonderful in so many other ways. She is very affectionate, she loves to learn, is very motivated and she listens well. And happy and playful most of the time.

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One of those days

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I woke up with a painful throat which pissed me off, I don’t have time to get sick (and after 10 months since my last cold I though I was invincible). I had to finish my essay in behavioral problems in dogs and horses even though I felt like sleeping the whole day. And yes I had to walk Chili in the morning. If walking in a heavy rain and wind wasn’t bad enough she rolled in something very dead. I had to wash her as soon as we got home, I didn’t even take my shoes off. Even Salma was repulsed by Chili’s new fragrance. But well, too bad those things happen. Stupid enough I decided to walk both dogs together in the afternoon. I was even very proud of myself how well it was going. I lost my voice but still my girls behaved well… Till I decided to go home that is. Chili disappeared in the bushes and I could call her I tried but sound coming out of my mouth were disappointing. She did appear a minute later holding the biggest and dirtiest rabbit I’ve ever seen. I walked away, I knew I cannot catch her and that for her in that moment this rabbit is so important that I cannot compete with it with my stupid treats. She didn’t follow me and Salma so I came back to see that a woman with a pit bull is watching Chili eat. Nice. By that time Chili had only ears (and I guess a bit of head) left and was running after me and Salma but keeping safe distance. If I wasn’t vegetarian already this would put me of off meat for a long time. I was pissed at her but at the same time it’s not fair towards her. Let’s forget about our human expectations for a while. We had a good time walking all together and then Chili’s time got even better. She followed her nose and found a tasty dead rabbit. That’s what dogs have been selected for generations: to scavenge. There is absolutely nothing wrong with her behavior, she is an opportunistic scavenger and I’m the one who is crazy wanting her to just leave her treasure behind.
On a more serious note: I gave her a medicine for her stomach as a precaution and I will de warm her in two days (I want all the rabbit to go out first). I wonder though how she manages to eat a whole rabbit with the bones and fur.