Spectre was a PEW.
Spectre came from the Pets At Home adoption centre. She had been sitting in there for a few weeks, and was described as having special dietry needs because she was missing her teeth.
Much as a rat with these kinds of special needs just grabs at me, I tried hard to walk away and not adopt her. But week after week she remained in the small, boring adoption tank, and I began to think that no-one was going to adopt a rat with dental problems, as these are tricky to sort out, not to mention expensive.
Jon backed me up on this, and asked me if I thought anyone else in this area was likely to even look twice at her. I had to say that I didn't believe anyone would. So we took this as our answer, and adopted Spectre.
I spoke to the staff in store to try and understand exactly what her dental issues were, as the write up was very ambiguous. I was told that she had come in with the rest of the stock to be sold, but had failed to thrive and eventually, they'd taken her to the vet. The vet saw that she had very overgrown teeth, which were preventing her from eating properly, and causing her weight loss.
He apparently then clipped her teeth, but when he did so, two fell out. This is not a hugely uncommon occurance when clipping a rat's teeth, and they usually grow back. But Pets At Home, in their unending ignorance, had thought that once the teeth were gone, that was it, and they would never grow again.
So, as a result, they'd not kept a check on her dental issues at all, and when I got her home and got my first chance to look in her mouth, her teeth were curled round, and her bottom ones were beginning to dig into her mouth. And yes, she very much had all four incisors present.
I rushed her to my vet the same day, being a little shocked at the state of her teeth. I'd never dealt with malocclusion in a rat before, so wasn't sure what to do, but guessed she would have them clipped.
My vet trimmed them for me, and Spectre was very well behaved. He also told me what my options were with regards to her teeth.
Rats teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, and they keep them short because the incisors meet together, and can be ground against one another to wear them down.
But if the rat's teeth don't meet properly, they cannot grind against one another effectively, and they will grow too long. Eventually, if not treated, they can grow into the rat's face or mouth.
This problem is called malocclusion.
Malocclusion can either be genetic, as in the rat is born that way, or it can be the result of a trauma to the head which has knocked the jaw slightly out of alignment.
Either way, the treatments are the same.
You can try to surgically remove the teeth, to prevent the rat having to endure regular clipping throughout its life. This option was presented to me. However, the surgery is complex, long, and risky. The rat risks dying of blood loss, and the operation time is comparatively long compared to more routine rat ops, meaning the rat is under anaesthetic for longer.
As rat's teeth sit very deep into their skull, to remove them is far more difficult than removing a tooth from a dog or cat; you have to really attack the jaw bone, and this process, on a tiny animal like a rat, risks fracturing the jaw. Also, most vets will not remove both sets of incisors in one operation, so will remove the top set in one session, and the bottom set in another, meaning two operations, two anaesthetics and twice the risk for everything.
I decided against this option for Spectre. I didn't feel it was fair to put her through such a risky op that had the chance of making her even worse. I would always make such a decision for a rat on an individual basis, and if a rat really did not tolerate tooth clipping well, it may be the lesser of two evils.
My other option was to have her euthanised.
The vet presented this to me as an option, but it didn't linger in my mind for any amount of time. She was an otherwise healthy, happy, rat and I could see no reason to end her life.
So the last option we had, and the one I went with, was regular tooth trimming. This can be done using gas as sedation, but this requires a vet trip every single time, and knocking the rat out every single time. My vet didn't think it would be in her best interests to gas her so often, so the best thing was for me to learn to do it myself, at home.
Rats teeth can be trimmed back using dog/cat nail clippers. However, there is something of an art to it, and I wasn't confident to do it myself right away. So I took Spectre to the vet on three more occasions to let him do it before I tried it on my own.
It was difficult, but not as hard as I imagined. I continued to regularly clip Spectre's teeth, every 1-2 weeks depending on growth. She definitely didn't like the procedure, but it was over in seconds, and Im sure she would prefer it to the other options!
Fortunately, Spectre was a really lovely, mellow, gentle girl. Had she been nippy or very nervous, it would have made clipping her teeth so much harder. As it is, she was very forgiving and sweet.
Spectre also has the distinction of being the first ever rat to have a litter here.
I had never bred anything, and did not intend for Spectre to have babies! She had my first, and hopefully last, 'oops' litter.
I'd often heard about rat owners having accidental litters, and used to hold quite an arrogant attitude about it, something along the lines of 'if I can go 15 years without an accidental mating, why can't you?' and 'its not difficult to keep cages secure!'
Well, boy did I eat my words!
At the time we got Spectre, we were also in the middle of battling to keep Broadway contained in a cage. He was a real escape artist, and seemed to be able to squeeze through bars we never would have dreamed he could.
When he first started doing this, he was a youngster, and so it wasn't that surprising that he managed to escape the big cage, because the bar spacing was fairly wide. Certainly not wide enough for a rat to pass through without effort, and I'd had rats smaller than him in there who never escaped, but Broadway was a born adventurer.
So after him escaping one time too many, we decided we had no option but to remove him from his group and keep him in a smaller barred cage until he had grown a bit and was too big to escape any more.
So Broadway lived in a temporary cage with some friends for a few months, until I thought he was around adult size and would no way be able to get through the bars any more.
And when we returned him to the cage, we seemed to have solved it; he did not attempt to leave, and we no longer came out to find him wandering about free!
Around the same time, we had just put Spectre in with the girl's group. The girls at the time lived in a kind of franken-cage set up of several big cages fixed together. I'd used this cage for several years for all sizes of doe, and never once had a rat even try to escape it. To me, the bars were far too small for that to even be an option, so I didn't even think about it.
But I came out one night to find Broadway out again. I grabbed him, and began wondering how in hell he had gotten out this time, considering he was now twice the size he had been last time.
And then I saw Spectre wandering around on top of her cage, too. She had also defied logic and managed to squeeze out.
My heart sank. I just kept telling myself 'Im sure they didn't meet up, Im sure nothing happened, Im sure Im being paranoid!' But I had to be prepared for the fact that I may have a pregnant doe on my hands.
I really didn't know what to do. I knew that, as a rescue, I didn't have room for the potentially 20+ babies a rat can have, and I knew I'd never be able to rehome them all; rehoming rats in this area is incredibly hard. And while people may disagree with me, my priority is the rats that are already here and need help. To fill up 20+ valuable rescue spaces with a litter that could be avoided wasn't an option, to me.
Its also worth remembering that Spectre had malocclusion, a condition that can have a genetic basis. The last thing we needed was a whole litter of rats with this same condition.
So I began to look into having Spectre spayed. This is, essentially, a rat abortion. It is controversial, but to me, has always seemed very logical; I could keep all the babies, which would mean I'd have to turn away a lot of adult rescue rats that desperately needed my help.
Or I could have the babies terminated when they were mere embryos, leaving space for the already existing lives that needed me.
To me, the already born and existing rats take precendent over the unborn and unformed embryos. Some people consider these 'rat abotions' to be unethical, because it means killing. But what these people don't realise is that by not performing this operation, you're still condemning rats to death; you're just condemning adult rats that you have to turn away to death instead. Whichever route you choose, you're playing God.
But I didn't want to put Spectre through a spay if she did not need one. There was still no guarantee that she was even pregnant. So I kept a very close eye on her. A rat's gestation period is 3 weeks, so if Spectre showed signs of being pregnant in that time, I'd book her in for a spay.
A good way of telling if a doe is pregnant is that they stop coming into season. However, Spectre was one of those does that never showed any signs of being in season anyway; she never ear wiggled or acted any differently. So that method was useless for her.
I began just keeping an eye on her size. She was a tiny doe, so I was sure I'd see her get a belly on her way before she gave birth.
To cut a long story short, Spectre showed no signs of being pregnant whatsoever until the night before she gave birth. Her stomach seemed to just suddenly drop, and at 1:00am I realised she was suddenly looking very pregnant. And when I felt her, I could clearly feel babies inside. Not being a breeder, and never having bred anything in my life, this was all so new to me.
In conclusion, Spectre went on to give birth to three kittens. I kept all three, and they became Data, Lore and Lyra.
While Spectre's litter was not planned, and involved a great deal of stress on my part, I will not say I did not enjoy the experience of raising a litter. It was something I thought, as a rescuer, I'd never get to do. I knew I'd never breed rats, so I had always thought I'd never get to experience seeing rats born, holding them when they were hours old, raising them from day one in my own way.
It was a lovely thing to do, and I got three beautiful rats from the experience. And not one had the tooth issues of their mother.
In actual fact, while the mating was not planned, it could have been much worse. Broadway and Spectre were both very lovely rats, with incredibly friendly, tolerant and accepting personalities. And indeed, we ended up with three babies that were just like this. There were bucks in my shed that did not have temperaments as good as Broadway's, and who I would never have wanted to see passing their traits on to a new generation. But luckily, Broadway was an awesomely friendly and outgoing rat, with no health problems at the time, as was Spectre, so this was at least a positive.
Spectre was a lovely, sweet, gentle girl who went on to live the rest of her life in an Exlorer cage with her group, including her daughter.
She died of what could have been either neurological or heart issues, as she became more lethargic, less agile and less 'busy' until she simply passed away one night.
Why Spectre? Jon named her due to her white colouring, and because we got her close to Halloween.