Jeremy is a siamese dumbo.
Jeremy was being housed alone in the Pet at Home adoption tank, with the label that he had been abadoned there. I spoke to staff, and it turned out Jeremy had been purchased from Pets at Home, along with another rat, recently. The owner had returned Jeremy, however, as she claimed he did not get along with the other rat.
When I saw Jeremy, I was dubious of this claim, as he was little more than a baby, and true aggression in a rat that young is quite rare. I assumed he simply needed someone who understood rats. However, the staff at Pets at Home insisted I house him alone. When I stated that I would try him with other rats first, they urged me against it. I then said that if he did turn out to be genuinely aggressive, he would be neutered which would most likely solve it all. They looked at me like they thought I was insane.
So for the sake of an easy life, I then nodded and told them exactly what they wanted to hear: oh, ok, no worries, he'll live alone.
In 16 years I've not yet had to house a rat alone, and it saddened me that this rat would have been doomed to a life in solitary confinement had I not adopted him. While I never doubted that he was difficult with other rats, I was sure it was something that could be fixed, as I'd done countless times with 'nasty' rats over the years.
On getting Jeremy home, I let him settle for a while, then brought in another rat to see what his reaction would be. I chose to use Dali as he is a non-threatening rat who is friendly to newcomers. I let them run together on the sofa, and there were absolutely no signs of trouble. Jeremy pretty much ignored Dali, he certainly didn't do anything to suggest he had a problem with him.
As he did so well, I popped them into a cage together, which was when Jeremy's attitude shifted; he began to posture and intimidate Dali, and clearly wasn't happy having him in the cage.
Attempts with another rat closer to Jeremy's own age gave the same results: fine outside of the cage, territorial inside it. So at least I knew what the issue was, and what sort of aggression I was dealing with. This was simply a cocky young rat with a pushy attitude who would bully someone if he thought he'd get away with it. Trying him with nice, young, friendly rats was going to achieve nothing other than those nice, friendly rats being Jeremy's victims. He needed to be housed not just with rats that would take no rubbish from him, but with a larger, well established group where he would be unable to 'take over'.
What had probably happened with him was that he was always of a 'dominant' personality from a young age. If the other rat baby he was purchased alongside was the opposite, ie, a submissive type, then chances are he had never been disciplined and had simply gotten away with constantly bullying and having his way for most of his life. He'd probably never had another rat stand up to him, so he'd grown up thinking bullying and intimidation was ok.
I decided the best group for Jeremy was the one that was very secure, and had mostly nice rats, but nice rats that would put their foot down if someone started trouble; he needed a 'leader' who would teach him what was and wasn't acceptable.
After being placed with that group, he originally attempted to continue his nasty, obnoxious behaviour. And it was tolerated for a while, but eventually, another rat told him off rather sternly for it. This seemed to make him wake up and realise that not every rat in the world was going to cave to him and let him bully them. You could almost see in his eyes the shock that someone had actually stood up to him. After this, he went through a bout of nerves around other rats instead. Understandable really, as everything he thought he knew about how you're meant to interact had changed.
But as no-one was bothering with him, I left him in the group with the hope he would eventually adjust to group life and settle in. He was in the group for a week, and he didn't harm anyone; but he himself sustained a few injuries. They were superficial; tail nips, a few small cuts and scrapes, but it was clear that he was not happy in that group. While he had been seen to go into the igloo with the others on a couple of occasions, he was clearly very intimidated by all the rats in the group now, and wasn't doing as well as I would have liked. I decided to remove him to give him time to de-stress and for his wounds to heal.
I knew then that he couldn't go back into that group; for whatever reason, they had not taken to him. Usually, they were an accepting group to most, but perhaps Jeremy's difficult behaviour just confused and annoyed some of them too much. So once he had healed and was acting more like his old self, I tried him in a different group, one comprising of several rats his own age and size, but who were all confident and head-strong themselves, and a couple of older, mellow lads. I theoried that rats his own age would probably be better equipped to deal with him than older rats who just wanted a quiet life. Again, this worked for a period, and Jeremy did manage to bond to some individuals in the group, but ultimately, the same problem occured: he was bullied, and this time, his foot was injured.
So he was put in yet another group, with three dominant, pushy boys and some other gentler, nicer boys. So far, Jeremy has thrived best of all in this group. He has the gentler boys to take comfort from, but the alpha boys to keep him from causing trouble.
I am always watching Jeremy, as he has the potential to be difficult, and I do wonder if his aggressive behaviour will resurface as he gets older and more confident. I just hope the boys he is in with will not allow that to happen and will ensure Jeremy remains in his place.
If Jeremy does begin to have problems even in this group, he will likely be booked in for castration. He is young and fit, and there is no reason he would not do well. But obviously, I prefer to try other options before that one.
Whatever happens, Jeremy will not be housed alone, as Pets At Home requested. He does clearly enjoy contact with other rats a lot of the time, so he is by no means a lost cause. It saddens me to think he would have ended up in a home who kept him alone as they didn't know there was any alternative. But it saddens me more to think of the cage mate Jeremy left behind, who is now doomed to a life alone for no fault of his own, because of owners not being willing to work with their animals issues. These days, just 'getting rid' is easier than trying to understand why your rat acts this way, and looking into what you can do to change it.
Why Jeremy? Jeremy was named after the Pearl Jam song of the same name. I was having trouble thinking of a name for him, and that song came on my iPod, and as it was about a troubled, misunderstood and tragic child, it seemed to be fitting for him in some way.