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   One day I walked into the local animal shelter and saw a couple of little creatures I had never known even existed. They were Egyptian spiny mice, and everyone thought they were little hedgehogs or something. They are covered with coarse-textured bristles (not sharp or anything), with round, compact little bodies, large black eyes and even larger ears. I was immediately captivated by them.

   Unfortunately no one at the shelter had the slightest idea what to do with these active, exotic little animals. And because of uninfomed handling, the tail of one of the spiny mice broke off, leaving an inch of bloody, exposed cartilege! I immediately took the spinies into foster care, not even knowing what I should do. I learned on the Internet that spiny mice are unique to the world of mice, inasmuch as their tails are made in such a way that they will naturally break off if the mice are snagged by a predator. The mouse with the injured tail quickly cleaned up the wounded area and removed the cartilege, and although the tail does not grow back, she was fine in a day or so. I quickly became attached to them and permanently adopted them.

   The spinies, named Crystal and China, are delightful little creatures and require very little care. They eat rat and mouse food, and I supplement their diet with live crickets, which the spinies enjoy with great relish. They are originally desert animals, and secrete only a small quantity of highly concentrated urine, so their cage stays clean for a long time. They love to come out of their cage and run around the kitchen table, where they frantically explore every inch. One thing the spinies have are razor-sharp little teeth, and even if they are only gently nibbling your finger out of curiosity, they can sometimes unwittingly break your skin.

I really enjoy having my Egyptian spiny mice, and have learned a great deal from them.

turqborder2 (3K)

   In December of 2000 a group of rats came to me as fosters. A woman and her two children were fleeing a domestic violence situation from another state, so they packed up the dog and the rats in a van and left. They ran out of money and gas here in Phoenix and went into a shelter, but because their animals could not live in the shelter with them, I was asked to foster the rats. There was a father rat (Truffle), a mother (Cinnamon) and 10 two-week-old babies! I was thrilled to get them, and had just got them settled in when it became apparent that Cinnamon was expecting another litter, and the day after Christmas she gave birth to 13 more! Three of the 13 unfortunately did not survive, but in the course of three short weeks I had 22 additional rats in my care!

   After a while the family that brought them here had to return, and they could not take their rats with them, so they stayed with me. All the babies were healthy and very active, and it was great fun raising them and watching them grow. I returned a number of them to the shelter where they all found homes, but I still have 10 of them. Truffle is the father rat and is such a great rat. Truffle loves to come out of his cage and spend time relaxing with me on the couch. He runs all over the couch and all over me, and has to explore everything around him. He's a big boy, weighing over a pound, but he's as sweet and friendly as can be. Cinnamon just recently passed on, after battling a respiratory illness for a long time. Rats are unfortunately prone to respiratory diseases and often don't respond well to antibiotics. But I like to think I saved her from a lifetime of unnecessary litters, and her unborn babies from ending up as snake food.

   Below is a picture of Becky, who I think was the runt of the last litter. She was born without the lower half of her left leg, and with a short, stubby tail. But don't think this slows her down one bit. Becky is the fastest of all the rats, and an excellent climber. She is also the bravest, and is always the first to explore a new, unfamiliar situation while her sisters are hiding in the cage. She is quite the exceptional rat, and constantly amazes me with her ability to overcome her physical defects. Quite simply, her "handicap" isn't much of a handicap at all.

   I also need to mention other rats of whom I don't have photos yet: Billy, Bobby and Wendell, boy rats from the Christmas 2000 litter, and last but certainly by no means least, Travis, a male rat who permanently resides underneath my couch, and who comes out regularly for treats and handling.

turqborder2 (3K)

   My rats and mice have been such a joy to me, and a real learning experience. Rats, more so than mice, are very much burdened by an unfair and completely undeserved reputation as vermin. They are the exact opposite, and those lucky enough to let them into their lives and hearts are rewarded with a delightful, affectionate and very intelligent pet.

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