I made a makeshift sack out of a knotted silk scarf (what do you mean, you don't carry a square of silk in your inside breast pocket in case of emergencies? ;-) and picked out as many as I could find until the sun started to go down — then hurried for the next hour to get to the station before dark! When cooked, my spoils tasted just like the 'real' ones, and burst open in a most satisfactory manner; there is something very primaeval about eating food one has collected for oneself. Inevitably, some had insects or bad bits in them, but I gave the remnants of those to the rats — their teeth are a much better size for nibbling round the problem than mine are.
'Boundless' is possibly not the right term to use of rats, as they do indeed bound all over the place!
I was told that they are either sisters or foster-sisters, since the two litters were born at the refuge only about five days apart and nursed by both mothers indiscriminately. I suspect that these two are foster-sisters, as Julie is perceptibly larger and seems more 'mature' in her eating habits; she is interested in some of the same treats as Annabel, whereas Cecily doesn't show any sign of enjoying 'grown-up food'.
Julie is white, with an agouti hood and a broken stripe down her back (her tail is half dark, half pale). Cecily is black with a white belly and feet, and a silly white tip to her tail: this colouring is apparently called Black Berkshire. They have worked out how to climb the bathroom radiator from behind, mountaineering-fashion, by wedging their backs against the metal and walking all four feet up the wall one at a time while jammed firmly in the crack — this annoys Annabel considerably as she is too big to imitate the feat. However, she was the first one to get to the top of the radiator, by very resourcefully climbing me instead...
She always was a bed-making rat, but since Natalie died it's become almost obsessional; she keeps carrying more and more newspaper strips up to her bed until the entire upper storey of the cage is strewn with ones that she couldn't get in. It's a wonder that she can fit herself into the resulting tangle, but she seems to manage.
This evening I gave her a new bundle (as it seems to be her only interest in life at the moment) and then heard strange noises coming from within the room as I passed an hour or so later: she had exhausted the possibilities of pre-torn strips and was busy trying to rip up the papers lining the floor, shaking everything loose around her. I gave her some more strips to keep her busy, but I really think I'm going to have to remove the whole lot, as I can't tell whether the cage needs cleaning or not under all that paper. It probably needs cleaning anyway.
If there were any possibility of the matter I'd have said she might be pregnant, but as she hasn't been in contact with any males since early infancy I'm afraid it's just a manifestation of psychological distress at being on her own (and possibly of colder weather without a cage-mate)...
Natalie wasn't anyone special to most people — just a pet rat, and a sick one at that. She was ill in July, and had probably never really recovered from that: when she died, she had been on antibiotics for two and a half weeks and off them for the last four days, after the vet and I agreed that she hadn't shown any improvement during her last course of Baytril, and was probably already as well as she was ever going to get, now. I don't think stopping the antibiotics made any difference, as the damage to her lungs had already taken place. She was bright-eyed and wriggly, but she was often short of breath and sometimes had choking attacks.
She had another attack last night, and when I came in this morning I was intending to see if she needed to go back for another check-up at the vet's surgery. But she was already dead. She must have died some time between 8am and 10.30am on Friday, October 5th 2007.
Natalie was always my favourite among the rats. She was a pretty little 'agouti', which means a rat-coloured rat with boot-button-black eyes and a shaded coat of reddish-brown, beige and black. She had little pink feet, and cold ears that I used to lick for her, because she used to lick mine. When you picked her up she would turn her head and nuzzle your hand, and she liked to climb up trouser-legs — inside and out! — or nibble people's shoelaces. In the last few weeks, while she was ill, she would climb up into my lap and use her long nose to lever up layers of clothing until she could curl up on my stomach and share body warmth: I used to call her my warmrat.
I don't have any pictures of Natalie, and rats aren't particularly easy to draw at the best of times; but here is a picture of her namesake, darkhaired and shy. This is the image from which Natalie was christened.