JIM: The First Year and A Second Chance

Mary Ann Isaksen and Diane Newburg
From the July/August 1996 Rat & Mouse Gazette

JIM The First Year
By Mary Ann Isaksen

Jim was one of 14 babies born on December 14, 1994, to Evenstar, my Best In Show winning Blue Irish female, and Thorin, my magnificent Agouti Jumbo male. I was very excited about this litter because I knew how wonderful the babies would be, considering who their parents were. There were eight females and six males -- Agoutis, Blue Agoutis, and to my dismay, six Pink-Eyed Whites. I love PEWs, but unfortunately, most of the people seeking rats as pets do not, and therefore they are extremely hard to place in loving homes.

I decided to keep one Pink-Eyed White female whom I named Morgan. Liz Stauffer took a Blue Agouti and an Agouti female, Diane Newburg took a Blue Agouti and an Agouti male, and one other woman, who we will call Jane, took a Pink-Eyed White male whom her daughter named Jim. I was stuck with eight more babies to place! Luckily, Craig Schumacher had a school who was looking for classroom rats. I was done -- the litter was placed and I breathed a sigh of relief.

In August of 1995 I received a telephone call from Jane. She informed me that Jim had scabs on his shoulders. We discussed diet and bugs as possibilities and I instructed her as to the proper treatment for both likely causes.

In September she phoned to tell me that his condition had worsened and they were moving out of state and did not want to take this kind of problem with them. She asked if I would take him. I told her I would and asked her to bring him to my home. When Jane and her daughter arrived and I saw how badly Jim was mutilated between his shoulders I couldn't believe it. I had never seen anything like it. There was absolutely no fur in an area that had to be 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. The flesh had been dug out in the center so badly that I couldn't understand why it wasn't continually bleeding! I realized that this had nothing to do with bugs or diet. What was happening?

Jane and I sat down and began to discuss what needed to be done. During our conversation I discovered that, although I had told them they needed a roommate for Jim for his mental health, they had not gotten him one. I also observed the young girl who was his caretaker handling him very roughly and wrenching the poor rat out of the small opening in his unsuitable cage several times. It began to occur to me that Jim was neurotic and was mutilating himself on purpose. I had never actually heard of this happening, but in my opinion, that was the only answer.

It was obvious that this poor rat needed veterinary care. I immediately called my vet and discussed the problem with him. We decided that the tissue would need to be excised in order to give him a better chance at healing. That meant surgery and I was about to go on vacation. I asked Jane if she would be willing to take him to my vet and administer the post surgical care until I returned. She said yes and we also agreed to split the veterinary costs.

When I returned from my trip, Jane was quite anxious to get him back to me. She had been back in the vet's office on more than one occasion with Jim due to him ripping stitches out. She brought him back to me and again I observed poor Jim being wrenched from the cage by the little girl -- stitches and all! At that point, I was glad to take him.

Just as it seemed that Jim was finally going to heal, he started all over again. Back to the vet we went. This time, during the second tissue excision, we decided to cut his toenails beyond the quick and cauterize them so they would no longer grow. I knew this would be painful for him, but I did not see any alternative. My vet performed the surgery and this time, instead of stainless steel sutures he used nylon sutures that would not easily rip the skin when pulled on by rattie teeth. He also prescribed Phenobarbitol to keep him in a calm state to further aid his healing. It took time, but these methods finally paid off -- Jim was healed!

Jim was a sweet and kissy rat despite all he had been through. I decided to try putting him in the playground with my big office boys. Having never had a roommate Jim did not play well with others -- he beat up and slashed each one of my three Jumbo males who lived in the playground. To top that off, he even bit me! I separated him and put him in his own cage. He became unpredictable when I tried to handle him. Sometimes he would be incredibly licky, but sometimes he would nip. I felt sorry for him, but did not feel that I could handle him very much. I even warned people who came into my rat room.

Diane Newburg, who had already lost Jim's brother, Nicky, to an unexpected and acute illness always seemed intrigued by Jim. As time went on she began to speak with me about possibly taking Jim to live in her rat palace. I knew that Diane would do everything possible to make Jim's life wonderful and that she was no stranger to a rat bite (she had a Dalmatian from a breeder who did not handle her rats that frequently bit), so I jumped at the change to allow him a better life. In April of 1996, Jim went to his new home in Brentwood, California with Diane Newburg and all of her wonderful rats. I'll let Diane tell you the rest...

JIM A Second Chance
By Diane Newburg

No matter how many times I read Mary Ann's story of Jim's past, I get tears in my eyes. Shame on Jane for allowing Jim to be irresponsibly cared for by a child.

I lost my wonderful boy, MacGregor, on April 13, 1996, from what we think was kidney failure. Of course, no rat could replace him, but my thoughts turned to my Tristan's brother, Jim, now in the safe hands of Mary Ann.

I was so pleased that Mary Ann was willing to give Jim to me. I had heard him called "wild" and "psychotic." Mary Ann only said he was "unpredictable" and cautioned against putting fingers in front of his face.

I brought Jim home on Saturday, April 20. I put him on a table in a 3-level cage with no doors or top and put a Fern cage at the other end. Back and forth he went, seeming quite amazed at the freedom he suddenly had. He would come right to me and give my hands and face kisses. On Sunday when I got up he was standing on the top shelf and immediately jumped onto my shoulder and kissed my neck. He did not want to be put down. He nuzzled my face and hands and couldn't get enough attention. No "wild" rat here!

The following Wednesday after work I fed all my rats including Lolita who lives on the closet shelf, formerly with MacGregor, her soulmate. I put her food on the shelf and brought Jim back to play on the bed. About 10 minutes later I went back to write some notes and watch television and felt a thumping from behind the pillow. I looked and there was Jim AND Lolita! My heart stopped. They were checking each other out, but no posturing or puffiness. They spent the night together and all was fine.

On Sunday, April 28, I had Jim neutered. Dr. Oliver handed me my boy as he was waking up from the anesthesia and I let him sit in my lap on the way home. He slept most of the day, but was fine and out and about that evening.

Later in the week I took my young girls Shrimp and Jasmin back to meet him. They barreled into his cage as only youngsters can do. Jim was in Jasmin's way. No problem -- she just burrowed under his bottom and came out under his head. Jim took their frenzied inspection of his cage and himself with good humor.

At the end of this month I will be getting two boys. As soon as they are big enough they will have their cage placed by Jim's and they can meet. There is no doubt in my mind that all will go well. There is not a mean bone in Jim's body and I know he will love having companions to play with.

This is one good rat and those great genes are shining through. Welcome home, Jim. In only a few weeks you tiny paws have already dug a huge hole in my heart.