When I think of rats, I think of Templeton in Charlotte’s Web. Templeton was greedy and larcenous, just as rats are typically stereotyped, but he was also noble and kind and a loyal friend.
Humans stereotype animals just as they stereotype other humans. There is often a wide gap between those stereotypes and reality. Pigs are not dirty, sloths are not lazy, and gorillas are not savage beasts. Many people have an image of rats as filthy, disgusting, and villainous; they are not. Rats are intelligent and sociable animals, not that different than dogs. Yet, millions of rats are killed in U.S. laboratories every year. They are abused in everything from toxicology tests (in which they are slowly poisoned to death) to painful burn experiments to psychological experiments that induce terror, anxiety, depression, and helplessness. They are deliberately electroshocked in pain studies, mutilated in experimental surgeries, and have everything from cocaine to methamphetamine pumped into their bodies. They are given cancerous tumors and are injected with human cells in genetic-manipulation experiments. Animal activists infiltrating laboratories at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Utah revealed that mice and rats were given enormous tumors and painful, deadly illnesses. Rats had holes drilled into their skulls for invasive brain experiments.
Rats are mammals with nervous systems similar to our own. It’s no secret that they feel pain, fear, loneliness, and joy just as we do. These highly social animals communicate with each other using high-frequency sounds that are inaudible to the human ear. They become emotionally attached to each other, love their families, and easily bond with human companions. Infant rats giggle when they are tickled. Not only do rats express empathy when another rat or a human they know is in distress, they also exhibit altruism. In laboratory settings free rats can be seen liberating other rats from their cages even if there is no clear benefit in doing so.
Unprotected by the law, experimenters can torture, maim, and kill rats at will. They don’t even have to provide them with pain relief. A 2009 survey by researchers at Newcastle University found that rats who underwent painful, invasive procedures such as skull surgeries, burn experiments, and spinal surgeries, were given post-procedural pain relief only about 20 percent of the time.
Rats – and other animals – don’t have to suffer and die in experimental labs. There are many non-animal test methods that can be used in place of animal testing. Not only are these non-animal tests more humane, they also have the potential to be cheaper, faster, and more relevant to humans. Write your representatives in government to put an end to animal testing in the Unites States. Don’t buy products tested on animals and urge your supermarket or grocery not to carry them. Always look for the “Not Tested on Animals” logo when you buy products. Help make the Year of the Rat cruelty-free for all animals.