Friday, August 8, 2008

Rats in the Barn!

I haven't had very much personal time with my rats lately. Between work, the barn, and running, there is very little time for me to do anything else on the weekdays. My cats can come to me anytime I'm home, and my fish don't need much more than food and weekly water changes.

But in order to bring the rats out, I need to lock the cats away somehow, which is easier said than done when you have four young cats!

A co-worker who used to have rats suggested bringing them to the barn with me. She said the smells and sounds would stimulate them, and they'd get some time outside their cage.


So last weekend, I bought a new wire carrying cage for them. I wanted to bring them to the barn as soon as possible but thanks to the wet-blanket weather earlier in the week, I decided to wait a bit. My rats are accustomed to the air-conditioned coolness of my apartment and it would be kind of cruel to subject them to such heat.

So last night was the first time.

You'd think a horse that has a mouse family living in her stall, as well as in the stalls of barns past, wouldn't mind rodents. Wrong! Maybe it was more the squeaking and chittering of the rats (which I cannot hear but have been told, by my husband, that they do all the time) than the sight of them, but when I lifted that little carrying cage up to Limerick her nostrils began to flare and her eyes doubled in size.

Oh dear.

As the rats sniffed the air and moved around and (squeaked?), Lim's eyes grew and grew. Okay, okay! I put the carrying cage down along the edge of the aisle, next to my tack box, and proceeded to take Lim's fly boots off. But her eyes never left the rats. She craned her head around to the right and watched them, nostrils ever-flaring. Finally I had enough. Afraid she was going to get the idea of a spook into her Thoroughbred brain and knock me flat as I unwrapped her fly boots, I put the rats in her stall and slid the stall door shut so the barn cats couldn't sneak in behind my back.

Lim immediately calmed down.

The mare in the stall next to Lim's, however, did not. Dixie's nostrils blew and she peered over the edge of the stall, trying to find the rats. By then I was convinced they were chittering and squeaking away; how else would Dixie know they were there?

I went back into the stall and put some alfalfa hay into the carrying cage, hoping the rats would get to work and be quiet. But instead, Dixie became more adamant about finding the source of the noise. Okay, so that didn't work. I guess alfalfa hay makes rats even more talkative.

My hearing aid is pretty good at picking up most pitches but I have never heard my rats utter a single squeak. It was an interesting experience for me. I am usually so good at knowing what animals want, but for the first time that I could remember, I didn't know exactly what an animal--my rats--wanted. I know they were excited about being at the barn, but what exact aspect of the situation was setting them off, I don't know.

Perhaps it's because they don't have very many facial expressions outside of "awake" and "sleepy". Their body language can speak volumes but watching them in that stall, they seemed curious and very interested, hence my guess that they were talking because they were excited.

Overall, the rats' visit to the barn went well. Dixie settled down and ignored them after a while, outside of a curious glance thrown their way now and then. Four of my fellow boarders saw the rats. Two thought they were adorable, one was initially horrified then curious, and one said, "Well, I guess they're kind of cute."

At the end of the day, as Lim was eating her dinner, I decided to pick up the carrying case and show it to her again.

She looked at the rats but this time her expression was one of boredom.

Yeah okay, I saw them before. So what?

From utter horror to boredom...ha!

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