Luke





Luke was a black Berkshire

Luke came to me with his brother Theo having previously been a child's pets. The parents claimed the child had developed an allergy to them, but in my experience, children getting bored of pets is far more common than children spontaneously becoming allergic to them!

They were both around 10 weeks old when I picked them up, and neither had been handled much. Luke was the most nervous, and upon intros to other rats, it became clear that he was going to be difficult to integrate.
He was terrified of the higher ranking rats, but violent to the lower ones. At one point in an intro, Mandylor attacked Luke and ripped a hole in his leg, for which he was rushed to the vet. He was alright, but it may have set back his confidence with other rats. Whether because of this event or not, as Luke grew, he became very aggressive toward other rats. You sometimes find that nervous rats will turn into aggressive rats eventually as a way of defending themselves against perceived threats, even if those threats are imagined.

With alpha boy Henry's health failing, Luke soon became the alpha of the group. This lasted a little while before it became clear that he was not behaving like a good alpha. He regularly wounded the other rats, and often kept them holed up in one igloo or box while he patrolled the whole rest of the cage himself.
The other rats all seemed to be afraid of him, and he was also making introducing any new rats to that group almost impossible.

In the end, he was removed from the group, and the whole lot settled down and returned to calm, showing that it was definately Luke that was the problem. Luke was not just a bully, but he was physically aggressive.
He was particularly aggressive concerning other rat's toes, and he would bite them either through bars or directly. He caused several of my boys lose toes.
Luke was then castrated, as it became clear this was the only way he would ever be able to live with other rats.
He came through the op fine, and I allowed him several weeks to recover, during which time I made the decision to house him with the girls. He seemed to be so stressed out around other males, that I reasoned he would be happier with females, and feel less threatened by them.
But during an intro to the girls, disaster struck.

Luke was allowed to run with the girls, and other neutered boy, Hoffman, in a neutral space, and seemed to accept them pretty well. It made a change not to see him lunging at other rats.
I put Luke into the girl's cage and watched him closely. He seemed a little stressed, but not aggressive, and eventually settled down in one of the igloos to sleep. I felt confident leaving him.
However a few hours later, when I returned home from work, I went to check on him and found my elderly girl, Mirabelle dead.
She was not just dead, but had very clearly died as the result of an attack from another rat. Her whole body was covered in bites, and her stomach and chest cavity were ripped open.
Luke remained in his igloo, inches from her body, while all the other girls remained huddled up the top. It was almost certain Luke had killed Mirabelle.

A rat killing another rat is extremely rare, even more so a male attacking a female. I have certainly never heard of such a thing in my entire rat-keeping life, and no-one else I spoke to had, either.
I cannot say for sure whether Luke intended to actually kill Mirabelle from the outset, or whether he simply attacked her and she wasn't strong enough to withstand it, so died later. Im confident, however, that the holes in her chest and abdomen were created after she had died, as rats often attempt to dispose of dead bodies by eating them. But the other bites she sustained were not consistent with a rat 'cleaning up' a dead body.

Obviously, Luke was removed immediately. It was a horrible thing to see, and I felt instantly guilty, as if it were my fault for putting Luke into the cage so soon. But he'd seemed so comfortable with them, there was no indication he would behave like this.Having done probably hundreds of intros over the years, I felt confident in his body language to place him with the girls. It just goes to show that no matter how well you know rats, nature will sometimes throw you one that does not behave in the way it 'should'.
Im just thankful it was only one rat that he harmed, and that I didn't end up with a whole cage of dead rats. But this obviously left me in a situation of not knowing what to do with Luke.
I was very worried about ever trying him with any other rats again, in case he repeated his behaviour. I couldn't trust him anymore.
He lived alone for a period while I considered my options. Several people actually told me to euthanise him, and that they would not be able to keep him if he were theirs.
Frankly, I found these suggestions offensive. I will never, ever euthanise an animal just because it's behaviour is difficult, or doesn't fit in with my human morals. I do not give up on animals.
He was a rat, he acted on instinct and not malice; whatever reason he had for doing this to Mirabelle, it made sense in his head, even if it seemed senseless and brutal to us. We should not be so arrogant as to assume we as humans have all the answers. He was doing what he felt he needed to do, upsetting as it is to us.
He was otherwise very healthy, and always friendly toward me, so I failed to see what euthanising him would achieve. It seemed to me that people were suggesting it almost as a revenge action, as in, you killed my rat, Im gonna kill you!
This, to me, seems utterly pointless. Yes, it might make some people feel better, but what has it really achieved? The rat isn't going to learn anything from it, and by euthanising it, you're no better than the rat itself! In fact, probably worse since we at least have the ability to reason and have a system of morals.

So there was no way I was going to euthanise a healthy rat just because he did something I didn't understand or like. There was a suggestion he may have had a brain tumour, which could make him act so unreasonably aggressive. If this had turned out to be the case, I would have euthanised only when Luke became uncomfortable, and not before.
In the end, I took the risk to try another intro, with boys this time. But this time, I did not leave Luke alone with other rats until I was as happy as possible that he was safe, and done many intros on neutral ground, over and over.
As it was, he was fine. He went on to settle in a group of males where he caused no issues whatsoever. In fact, he became a fairly low ranking rat, and extremely tolerant of everyone. I had absolutely no concerns about his behaviour from then on.

I still wonder exactly what happened with Mirabelle. She was an old girl, with existing health issues anyway, but was certainly in no danger of dropping dead any time soon.
And of course there was no concrete proof that Luke did kill her, just a lot of very convincing evidence. There is always a tiny chance she could have died from her existing health issues purely coincidently, and Luke simply attempted to 'clean up' the body, making it appear he had attacked her while she was alive.
Without having been there to see the act, no-one will ever know. But I am 99.9% sure Mirabelle was killed by Luke, and he was directly responsible for her death. The tiny bites all over her body are consistent with serious rat attacks where they tend to lunge and bite, lunge and bite until the victim becomes weakened. In my mind, Luke was responsible, but we should always be aware that without being there at the time, we can't ever know the truth.

Im very happy I stuck to my morals and did not listen to people telling me to euthanise this boy. He became a wonderful example of good ratty manners, never caused so much as an argument, loved to cuddle and lick with me, and was a typical fat, lazy castrated boy. Anyone would have been glad to have him in their rat group.
He just made a mistake (by our values) and we cannot understand his reasons. But he was not 'evil' as it is not possible for a rat to be so. Animals are never evil, they are just surviving. So while it may be horrific to us, we cannot assume this makes it 'wrong' where the animal kingdom is involved.

Luke died at a good age, of a suspect Zymbals gland tumour.

Why Luke? He was named after Luke Danes from TV show 'Gilmore Girls'.

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