Pocket pups

Much of what I have written about has been social issues that I care about or eluding to deep systemic problems. While I think that that is important, I also know that sometimes, you just have to talk about happy and adorable things. So, this article is going to be about why I think rats are one of the best species of animals in existence. First off, I have to clear up one huge misconception: rats did not cause the bubonic plague. Rats are actually less likely to have parasites and viruses than dogs or cats. Some might have carried the fleas that spread the disease, but scientists now think that the main carrier of the bubonic fleas was gerbils, so strike that off your list of potential reasons to hate rats. Furthermore, rats groom themselves more frequently than cats, so kick out your cats for any muck before you blame the rats. Now that that has all been cleared up, let me tell you why rats are so great.

Rats have many incredibly social traits that lend them to being empathetic and incredible creatures. Rats are often referred to as “pocket-sized puppies,” so take that chihuahuas! They can be taught a name to respond to and various other tricks like fetch. They will also never forget a route to food once they have learned it. On top of being similar to dogs, they are also really similar to humans. They take care of others in their group who are sick and injured and will become depressed if they do not have company. They even succumb to peer pressure—they will do something the way another rat is doing it even if they know their own way works. Something even more human that they do is giggle when they are tickled. The frequency is too high for us to hear, but when scientists lowered the pitch they heard a distinct sound that was made when the rats were tickled (and yes, someone did fund lab assistants to tickle rats). Most rats are right-handed, which also matches us humans. However, unfortunately for them, rats do not have thumbs.

Rats also working for humans in some surprising and amazing ways. In countries where minefields are a treacherous hazard like Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia, dogs are too expensive to transport and take care of for sniffing them out. So a Belgian company trained rats to sniff them out instead and the program has been a major success. National Geographic notes that in Cambodia, 50 percent of communities are restricted in where they can build or farm because of landmines and the introduction of these rats will help tremendously. Plus, the rats are too light to trigger the explosives, meaning that no rats are harmed in the removal of landmines. But they do not just have a nose for explosives, their nose is also used to find tuberculosis. In places such as Mozambique, where tuberculosis is a major problem, tests can often be very time consuming and expensive. Enter the hero rats who are trained to rub people’s legs if they smell the disease. One rat can test 100 samples in 30 minutes, something that takes a lab four days to complete. This speeds up the testing process and lowers the cost, meaning more resources for the hospital to treat their patients.

Rats are amazing companions and creatures as they are not only social and intelligent creatures, but also help to save human lives. You do not have to love rats after this, but you at least have to admit that they are one truly awesome species.