Captain Howdy was a roan dumbo.
Captain Howdy is one of those rats that was only here a tiny amount of time, but I became so very attached to him.
I'd recieved a phone call from a member of the public who was concerned as she had a rat that had bitten her. The bite had been so bad that she'd had to go to A&E. Ths boy was her first rat, and not even a rat she'd planned but one her friend had given her, so she didn't know what to do.
We spoke on the phone and it was clear that she did not want to give up on the rat. I assumed, from the behaviours she described and the age he was, that we were dealing with a hormonal aggression rather than a fear based one as he certainly wasn't scared of people. We discussed the benefits of castration for hormonal bucks, and she seemed keen on giving it a go.
However, a short while later, after speaking to her vet, she decided the rat would be better off here. Her vet hadn't been at all confident in doing a rat castrate, having never done one, and Howdy's owner didn't want to have him operated on by someone who didn't know what they were doing. She also knew that, ultimately, Howdy needed to be with other rats and she wasn't planning on getting anymore rats with Howdy's behaviour issues being what they were.
So, in the end, she decided to bring him to me.
When Howdy arrived, I wasn't quite sure what to make of him. He seemed so sweet, so bright and friendly, but I had seen the scar he'd left on his owner's hand so had no reason to doubt he could be aggressive. I began handling him with gloves on at first, just to get an idea as to what sort of behaviours he exhibited. After a day or so, he had made no attempt to bite the gloves, and seemed a very happy-go-lucky rat, and I'd not seen any signs of aggression. I soon took the gloves off and began handling him normally, and it was clear from then on that he was not going to hurt me. He was incredibly loving, licked everyone who dared put a finger near him, and just adored sitting on a lap being petted. He was a real people rat.
Below is a video of Captain Howdy on his second or third day here:
As you can see, he was only interested in affection and cuddles. I couldn't work out what had gone wrong with his previous owner. He had definately bitten her, I saw the scar, but no matter what I did to him, I couldn't provoke any kind of aggression from him.
Then one day, he was on my bed and we were hand wrestling, which is basically where a rat play-fights with its owner's hand as if it were another rat. This is a normal play behaviour for rats, and they tend to learn as babies how rough they're allowed to be. Rats that have been solitary for a long time, or who are taken from their siblings too young, may not learn these boundaries or may forget them, so they will play-fight too roughly. This isn't aggression, as the rat has no malice or intention of hurting anyone, its simply that they don't know the rules.
Howdy was one of these rats. He became extremely over-excited when hand wrestling, and would nip too hard. He nipped my hand one day and shook his head about, like a dog, and did rip the skin. Had I panicked and pulled away when he first did it, it would have been a bigger wound. As it is, rat bites don't alarm me, so I was able to keep still and just squeak at him to stop when he did it. But this was, without a doubt, what he had done to his previous owner's hand. It wasn't aggression, just rough play.
By squeaking at him as his litter mates or mother would have, Howdy soon learned how hard he was allowed to nip, and it was no longer a problem. He was a very smart rat, and picked things up incredibly quickly.
One day, Howdy developed a swelling around his testicals, looking almost like an abscess from a nip. Abscesses aren't uncommon in rats, so I simply put him onto antibiotics and Calprofen and monitored the area.
After a day, the swelling was much worse, and did not look much like any abscess I'd seen. It was very purple and very bruised. I began to get suspicious of it being a hernia. As it was a saturday afternoon and the vet's was closed, I called the emergency vet. I told her over the phone what had happened, and she said she would be quite sure it was actually an abscess, as hernias in rats are quite rare, and that if she were to come out and see him, she would only give him antibiotics and pain relief anyway, as I'd already done. She told me to continue on with the meds, and if I wanted to, bathe the area and see if I could lance it to take some of the swelling down.
I did this, and when lanced, did not get any pus out. All I managed to get was feaces, supporting the idea that he'd sustained a hernia, causing his bowel to drop into his scrotum.
At this point, I was feeling very worried. I phoned the vet back who said that she was not confident to do that sort of surgery on him, and to bring him in the next opening day for a different surgeon to look at him. She said he wasn't in any immediate danger and to try and keep him comfortable and to ensure he was able to poo ok by giving him enemas if needed. Howdy did not seem at all affected throughout any of this. He did not act in pain, and he was his usual bright, happy self.
I gave Howdy the nursing care he needed until the vet's next opening day, where I took him straight in.
At this point, the swelling had come to a head, and seemed to have opened up, much as an abscess does, so I began to be hopeful it might be an abscess after all. But when he saw the vet, it became clear that the hole was not the result of an abscess, but was a hernia where the skin had ruptured, and his bowel was also ruptured, and coming through the hole. Some had gone necrotic.
I asked them to do whatever they needed to do surgically to save him, regardless of cost. The vet said she was very unsure of his chances of surviving an op like that, but she went to talk to another surgeon about it. The other surgeon said that she doubted very much that Howdy would survive an operation to correct it, and that it was an entirely unknown area as no-one knew how much bowel they could take away and still have him live a normal life. She also said she thought she could feel a lump on his bowel, possibly a tumour which might have been what started it all off in the first place. I was strongly advised not to put him through such an ordeal, and I had no choice but to have him euthanised.
It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and I still cry about him now. He was the most lovely, gentle rat and he was happy and licky and jolly right up to the end, despite his condition. It made having him put to sleep so much harder, as mentally, he was as bright and happy as he'd always been. He would have gone on to be a very special rat in my life, as I'd become so attached to him already by that point. If every rat I owned from now on was like Howdy, I'd be very happy. He was a truely special little boy, and I know he's playing hard in heaven.
Why Captain Howdy? Named after the ouija board demon in the Exorcist, because I expected him to be a bit nasty! Didn't turn out that way in the end, but still seemed to suit him.