The Phantom




The Phantom is a black rex berkshire.

Phantom came to me with Vito and Tripoli.
I recieved a phone call one day from a man who was having trouble with his three rats. Or more specifically, one of those three: The Phantom.
He told me this rat had always been fine, until he caught mites which resulted in some scabs and sores on his back. The owner said he had gotten the mites treated at a vet, but that the rat had not enjoyed being handled while he was sore, and so the owner had simply let him alone for a few weeks, resulting in the rat 'going feral', as he put it.
He told me how he had recently attempted to handle The Phantom, and had recieved a nasty bite for his efforts, one which landed him in A&E as it wouldn't stop bleeding. He, understandably, didn't trust the rat after this, and as he had young children, he felt it better that The Phantom be given to someone who could cope with him. The other two rats were apparently fine, but I assumed they all lived as a group and he wished not to split them up.

We met in a car park and the man got two cardboard boxes out, one containing Vito and Tripoli, and one containing The Phantom. He was perfectly happy to handle Vito and Tripoli, but warned me not to touch Phantom, and was convinced the rat was a bit of a maniac. He proceeded to pick him up by the scruff to put him into my carry cage.
He told me how Phantom had never lived with other rats. He had obtained Vito and Tripoli, and, for reasons unknown to me, later went and obtained a third rat, but with no intentions of having them live together. He told me he simply didn't trust Phantom with any other rats because of his aggression.

A picture was beginning to unravel, to me. Here we had what was, by his body language, clearly a timid and unconfident young rat, who had been housed alone. This rat, even on first glance, did not look like he was very comfortable. While Tripoli and Vito were curious and eager to climb out of their cardboard box, Phantom merely huddled at the edge of his, eyes wide.
The owner showed me the scar he had gotten from the bite, so I absolutely do not doubt that he was bitten. I am confused, though, as to why he chose to re-home all three rats, when they did not live as a group of three, and two of them were behaviourally normal. Seems to me most would re-home the 'problem' rat, as he was a loner anyway, and keep the other two, but perhaps The Phantom's behaviour was simply a last little incentive to re-home rats that the family really didn't want anyway.

As I had assumed all three were in one group, I had only brought one carrier, and as the owner was adament that the rats shouldn't meet, I had to transport Vito and Tripoli in their cardboard boxes. We stopped off at my mum's after collecting these rats, and I didn't want them chewing out while there, so I decided to put them all into the transport cage together.
Often, even rats that do dislike or not know one another, will get along in this sort of situation, as being out of their environment, and a little stressed about the move, can make them forget about fighting for a while! In fact, putting rats into a small cage and going for a drive has been used as an intro technique by some!
So, I had no concerns but watched them closely. This was my first chance to pick Phantom up, and given how certain his previous owner was that he was dangerous, I was a little unsure what to expect.

Fortunately, Phantom was good as gold, and, after a bit of posturing and grumpyness from Vito, the three of them cuddled up together and shared some dessert from a spoon!
It was not all that surprising to me that Phantom slotted in well with other rats, though it did bring home how sad it was that he'd spent so much time alone when it was completely unecessary. A rat's behaviour toward humans has little to no bearing on its behaviour toward other rats; the two are unrelated behaviours, rats know the difference between us and their own kind, and will react differently. There are many rats who are wonderful with humans, but don't get on with other rats, and there are also many rats who hate humans but adore their rat friends. Phantom had seemed such a timid and worried boy from the moment I saw him that I'd doubted he would have been the type to cause trouble, and suspected, quite rightly it turned out, that he drew a lot of comfort from simply having a companion.

Once home, I chose to free range the three boys right away, as I wanted to be extra sure they would be ok being housed together over-night. It also gave me a chance to watch The Phantom and try to get an idea of his behaviour.
All I saw was a quite anxious, unconfident rat who did not appear to have any aggression in him, either with me or the other rats.

To this day, The Phantom has never tried to bite, or shown any inclination to do so. He has been wonderful. He now lives with several other rats, including Vito and Tripoli, and is a much happier, more settled boy.
When I asked his previous owner what the situation was when Phantom bit him, he explained that he had the rat out for some interactions, as normal, and was carrying him around in his arms, and had been doing so for 10 minutes at that point, when the rat just randomly, out of the blue, attacked him.

This gave me a bit more of an idea of what might have happened. It is rare, very rare, for a rat with no history of aggression to attack someone out of the blue, without any prior warning. I'd go as far as to say it just doesn't happen.
The only situations in which a normally well mannered rat might do such a thing are extreme and sudden pain, or extreme and sudden fear.
It seems to me that Phantom was either inadvertantly hurt somehow while his owner was carrying him, perhaps his tail was caught up (he has the longest tail of any rat I have ever seen!) or his owner squeezed him or god knows what, and simply panicked and reacted.
Or, something could have badly frightened him, causing him to go into 'fight or flight', and, upon realising he couldn't run, he instead chose to attack as a last resort. Being a timid rat, I suspect the latter is most likely.
What was perhaps relevent was that the family had at least 3 dogs. They brought some of them with them when we met up. Some rats just don't like the smell of a predator around them, which is entirely natural. Some rats learn to tolerate cats or dogs near them, some seem to lose their natural instincts, but others retain a healthy fear of the mere smell of a predatory animal near them, so it is entirely possible that the owner didn't quite respect this about what was already a timid rat, and the dogs were roaming around a bit too close for Phantom's liking.
I've seen rats in cages panic and dash into hiding at the smell of a nearby cat, so certain rats definitely do retain that instinct, and if Phantom got spooked by the smell or barking of a dog too close, he may have panicked and found he had no-where safe to run, so did the only thing he felt he could do to escape.

I suppose no-one will ever know the real reason why Phantom attacked his previous owner. But one thing is for sure, and that is that he has shown absolutely no aggressive behaviour while here, to either humans or other rats. He is a very sweet boy, and I have no issues with him whatsoever.
To be brutally honest, there are little bits and pieces about the whole story that were a tad fishy, to me. Not that Im saying The Phantom didn't bite, I believe he did, but other things about the situation don't add up. The main thing, however, is that The Phantom now has a group of rats to call his friends and will hopefully go on to live a good, long life.

Why Phantom? After the Phantom of the Opera, as Im a fan, but it wasn't until I'd named him that I noticed the eerie 'mask' like marking on his belly! Spooky.

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