Oh Rats!

If I’m waiting on the platform a while for my current favorite train—the F—and I usually am, I like to look for them. Little, fast, preoccupied critters with tails. The other week I watched one persistently chase another, or perhaps it was one desperately fleeing her unwanted company. I found myself rooting for her escape. It is at these moments, an onlooker will likely find me smiling down at the rats on the tracks.

When I saw Ratatouille a few weeks ago, I wondered if Pixar could help improve the reputation of our not so revered rodents.

I remember my friend Kari would just pretend the street mice she encountered to be kittens. “What about the rats?” folks might ask, and she’d reply “Oh, you mean the cats?” It’s interesting how a change in one little letter, provokes a completely different response.

I thought in honor of the the Lunar New Year commencing the ‘Year of the Rat’, I’d do a bit of rat advocacy.

The most common up-close encounter people have with rats is when they occupy a shared space. Your space, you might insist. But just like the subway rats, the predicament is in the eye of the beholder. These days there are many options for a humane eviction, with live traps and relocation. I learned from this book review, that relocating a family of mice or rats together is an even better option. At least they have each other.

Besides being poisoned or getting kicked out of their living quarters, the major danger these critters face is vivisection. Lacking any basic protections under the Animal Welfare Act, rats along with mice and birds comprise the majority of animals used in research. Since they aren’t covered under the AWA, their numbers aren’t reported, and they suffer significant horrors.

New England Anti-vivisection Society collected the following testimonials regarding rat research:

“The lab had a room where technicians practiced on rats. Often I would open the lid of the boxes and see mother rats nursing and trying to protect their babies. Techs would reach into the boxes and grab one of the rats to practice, for example, intubation. Because speed was of the essence – a tech was required to intubate a certain number of rats per minute – rats were often injured. I saw many bleeding from their mouths and squirming in pain. They were just thrown back into the box to be used again and again until they died.” – laboratory technician

“…[the researchers] made an incision in his neck and … inserted a catheter in his heart. The tube was passed behind his ear to keep the rat from going after it. Now the anesthesia was stopped and the rat was turned onto his stomach. A plastic dome … was put over him. The tube to his heart passed out a hole in the dome, and the rat was left for the anesthetic to wear off … but his back feet and legs were taped down, because he’d try to get away. Then it was time for the heart attack…. First a paralyzing drug is shot into the catheter … and then a drug to cause a heart attack. The injections were done quickly… but death was not quick, nor was he paralyzed completely…. He jerked many times and his head turned from side to side…. Tears started to run down my face. I wanted to take the little guy and gently bury him. I keep seeing that poor helpless little creature trying to escape, twitching in pain, and lying there discarded like a used tissue.”
– member of an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)

There are also scientific arguments as well as ethical ones regarding the use of non-human animals in biomedical, pharmaceutical and cosmetic testing.

In addition to buying from cruelty-free home and personal care products, you can also support humane charities that do not support animal testing.

Personally, I’m always inspired by people advocating for individuals and groups often marginalized in society. That’s what this ‘Year of the Rat’ symbolizes to me—expressing tolerance and compassion when it is more convenient not to.

Here’s to the little guy.

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~ by sangamithra on February 10, 2008.

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