The Stig was a black hooded.
The Stig was one of the rats given to me by Easton college at the end of the year so they could get 'new stock'.
I wasn't originally expecting to be given a buck, and didn't even know the college had bucks since after 2 years there I'd only ever seen does.
The Stig was the first proper biter I've had. I've had rats who nipped through fear, but The Stig would draw blood and it took me almost two weeks, and a lot of gentle handling, to stop him from biting.
I was told The Stig was about three years old, and I don't think this was a bad estimation. He was thin, had a poor coat with some bald patches, and had a slightly deformed front leg from a break which had set itself over time. When I went to pick him up, he was housed alone, and no-one could tell me for sure if he'd been alone forever or whether he'd once had a companion.
The Stig was a feisty, belligerent rat, but I adored him so much for this very reason. He had spent all his life with little human contact and little out of cage time, and was now making up for lost time by making sure he had everything his way. He loved to run about on the bed, and had a particular pillow he would roll around on like a dog. Part of The Stig's biting was related to the fact that he liked everything his own way. It was probably true that in the college, biting would get him put back in his cage, and he'd learned to use this to get what he wanted. There was also an obvious degree of nerves in his behaviour, having not been handled much and likely not correctly when he was. He greatly disliked his bum being touched, or the base of his tail, and it was this that would cause him to whip around and bite you moreso than anything else. Though this isn't unusual in hormonal bucks, it also made me wonder if he'd been picked up by his tail before, as I know the college would teach this as an acceptable way of handling a rat.
Despite his attitude, it was clear that The Stig was interested in me, and had a certain degree of fondness toward me, as he soon learned to come to me when I called him, and would spring to the bars of his cage when I walked into the room. It also became clear he was quite a dominant rat, which was doubtless a part of his biting. He would scent mark everything as belonging to him, and he clearly thought he was my alpha in the early days!
In order to teach Stiggy not to bite, I used the one method that seems to work better than any other: squeaking like a rat when he did it.
This works for rats as this is how they tell another rat that he's gone too far. Rats understand a short, sharp squeak as an 'ow!', whereas human shouting means nothing to them. You could actually see this method working on The Stig as he would bite, get squeaked at, then his next bite would be lighter, then eventually he was merely putting his teeth on me but not biting, then soon he stopped altogether.
The Stig went from a skinny, bitey rat to a confident, friendly little boy just with proper handling, so it was even more heartbreaking when he died suddenly.
I'd been attempting over the last few days to introduce him to other rats, with an aim to eventually have him living with a group. I was surprised by his intial reaction to other rats, as he was such a dominant character with me that I assumed he'd be equally terrible with his own kind. But on the contrary, he was very nervous of the others, and was the one they picked on, even the omega of the group.
But over the course of a few days, he began to get more confident, and I would let him run with Jester's group once a day for 20-30 minutes. One day, I'd had him out with them, and a scuffle broke out. It wasn't serious, and Stig seemed a little shell shocked, but otherwise fine.
But I decided to end it for that day and put him back into his cage.
When I went upstairs an hour later, The Stig was very lethargic, breathing very hard, and drooling. He simply hung in my arms when I picked him up, and would occasionally break into a manic run as if trying to escape something, which is common behaviour for rats in distress, and something you often see in rats before they die.
Stiggy died in my arms a few hours later.
Im assuming he had a stroke through the shock of the scuffle with the others, and was perhaps a lot older than we assumed, since I've done countless intros, many much more violent than that, and this is the first time I've ever had a rat react in this way.
Despite only having him a few weeks, Stig's death hit me harder than the death's of rats I'd had for years. I was very attached to him, because he was such a character, and I worked so closely with him. You don't spend that amount of time with a rat, or work that closely with one, without getting bonded to him. I was so happy with his progress, that it hit me so much harder when he died. I only wish I could have gotten him earlier and given him years of good life rather than just the few weeks he got.
I made this tribute to him after his death.
Why The Stig? The Stig is a presenter on Top Gear: