Picard was a hairless/double rex dumbo.
Picard arrived with Q.
I'd recieved an email from a lady who had just rescued a lot of baby rats from a breeder who was intending them to go as snake food.
She now had a fair few tiny rats on her hands, and was looking for help from people in the rat community who may be able to take some in.
Sadly, some of Picards brothers and sisters had already been sold to snake owners before the rescuer could get to them :(
When Picard arrived, I was shocked at how tiny he was. I'd been warned that all the babies from the rescue were horribly thin and tiny, and I'd even seen photos.
But they did not do justice to how small Picard actually was. The 'breeder' had said the babies were around 6 weeks old, but this was either a lie and they were much younger, or they were just so badly under-nourished that they'd been stunted.
Either way, Picard weighed a pitiful 52 grams when he arrived. To give you perspective, I have had 5 week old baby rats that weigh 150 grams. 52 grams is pitifully small for a rat that is meant to be 6 weeks old.
Handling him was like picking up a baby bird; there was no fat on him, you could feel every single bone, and he was very fragile. I was constantly worried about hurting him while handling him as he was so delicate. Despite this, he had retained the typical baby attitude of curious excitement, and was pinging around his cage and climbing the bars like any other normal baby.
But I knew he needed some serious fattening up.
Some people don't realise how much baby rats will eat, and how much protein they need to support their growth. These babies, having been bred for snake food by a complete and utter moron, had never had that vital nutrition, and I needed to make up for it. Someone actually even told me that they didn't think he would survive.
Picard and Q were given lots of high protein foods, like chicken, scrambled egg, and small tins of high quality cat food with a good protein content.
I kept a small diary of Picard's weight, and weighed him every day until he reached what I detirmined to be a 'safe' weight.
Picards weight diary can be seen Here.
Picard did really well, put on weight rapidly, and was a changed rat within a few days.
Once he was big enough and robust enough, he and Q moved into the 'special needs' group. I originally only put them in here because all these rats are gentle, accepting boys and I wanted intros to be easy for them. But they seemed to bond well with the others in that group, so here they remained!
Picard was actually a rather domineering little rat. He definately liked things on his own terms, and didn't like being restrained or ordered around!
His story is sadly all too common. Lots of people think its acceptable to breed rats indiscriminately to feed to snakes, and they don't even think of them as living, breathing animals; they're just food, as far as they're concerned. And they'll happily hand them over to other snake owners, live, without knowing or caring how they'll be treated.
Live feeding of snakes is illegal in the UK, but this does not mean that people don't do it, despite how inhumane it is to the rat and how dangerous it is to the snake.
For most rats sold live to be snake food, they're either fed to the snake alive, or they're killed beforehand via freezing to death in a freezer, or trauma to the head. Whatever happens, once these rats end up in the hands of a snake owner, their lives are over.
Even if the rat is only kept for breeding, to make more 'snake food' rats, that is not a good life. These 'breeder' rats are often crammed into tiny plastic containers in a rack, and know no companionship of other rats, human kindness, excercise, play, or anything else rats thrive on. They're treated as breeding machines, and when they can no longer produce babies, they're killed too.
I shudder to think what happened to Picard's siblings that weren't lucky enough to be rescued. I long for the day when snake owners wake up and realise the horrible industry they often enable and support with their choice of pet. Some may say 'those are just the bad ones, there are lots of responsible snake owners out there who wouldn't approve of this kind of thing', and it is certainly true that some snake owners are far more compassionate toward rats than others. But at the end of the day, my life would be a lot easier if the entire 'feeder' industry just went away.
I have friends who own snakes, even rat eating snakes, and we get along. But I make no secret of my feelings on the owning of these animals, and the high levels of rat abuse that exist as a result of people's desires to own a snake.
Picard eventually blossomed into a lovely, stocky rat. He was always small, but he made good weight and was robust, a far cry from the tiny, frail, bony rat that I first met.
Unfortunately, Picard's poor start in life and his careless breeding resulted in him passing away a lot sooner than he should have done. He was barely a year old when he began to lose weight. While he was eating well, he didn't seem to be able to put any weight on. He also seemed to be more lethargic and slept more than usual. Picard died of kidney failure, a condition that is extremely common in male rats, but generally it does not start to affect rats until they are elderly. It is not usual to have a rat so young fall victim to this condition.
Ratty friends of mine suggested Picard's variety might have had something to do with his early death: he was what some rat people term a 'fuzzy', a type of hairless with, as the name suggests, fuzz on the face and legs as opposed to being completely bald. While I do not claim to be an expert on rat varieties or genetics, I did find several webpages linking the 'fuzzy' variation of hairless rats to short life spans and, in particular, kidney problems.
It is sad to think Picard was just coming into his prime when he passed, but I hope I gave him a good life for the short time he was around.
Why Picard? Obvious Star Trek the next generation theme going on here at the moment!