Celebrate the Year of the Rat! πŸ€… and moreβ™₯️

Celebrate the Year of the Rat!

By Craig Shapiro

Joe’s odds weren’t good.

He was one of 30 hooded Norway rats in my friend’s experimental psychology project, some of whom would be poisoned in order to dull their considerable learning abilities. After they were put in an “avoidance box” to see how long they took to cross from one chamber to another β€” more than five seconds and they’d get a shock β€” they would be killed and dissected and their spleens and gonads weighed.

Why? To try to guess how low levels of mercury affect human learning.

Joe, though, got lucky. My friend didn’t want to torture animals, so she took him home. Like most rats, he was playful and affectionate. He spent the rest of his life with her, living happily ever after.

That was more than 45 years ago.

This year β€” the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac β€” millions of these exceptional animals will again be tormented and killed in cruel, curiosity-driven experiments and product tests in laboratories across the country.

As intelligent as they are inquisitive, rats are natural students with superb memories: They never forget a route once they learn it, can recognize their names and respond when called, and communicate with each other by touch, by smell and through high-frequency sounds. Altruistic and empathetic, they become attached to each other and are willing to risk their lives for their families.

They’re good parents, too. Mother rats have been known to dip their paws in cool water then smooth the fur on their babies’ faces, and baby rats put their arms around their mother’s neck while she’s bathing them.

Not only do rats enjoy each other’s company, they’re also loyal companions to their human guardians, returning as much affection as they’re given. They love getting massaged or scratched behind the ears and enjoy cuddling. They even “giggle” when tickled.

Their diminutive size notwithstanding, rats aren’t so different from the dogs and cats who share our homes. Yet, more than 100 million rats and mice are poisoned, maimed and psychologically traumatized every year, many of them in experiments sanctioned by the government and bankrolled by taxpayers.

In a recent test, experimenters cut out parts of rats’ skulls and injected inflammatory compounds into their brains. They were then forced to climb a 3-foot ladder with heavy weights taped to their tails, subjected to a battery of fear-motivated memory tests and finally killed.

In another experiment that is still going on, baby rats only a day old are put in an ice bath until they pass out from the cold, and then their spines are slashed open.

And in the “forced swim test,” rats, mice, hamsters and other small animals are drugged and then dropped into inescapable containers of water. Panicked, they attempt to climb up the sides, dive underwater to try to find a way out, and paddle furiously to keep their heads above water. Eventually, exhausted, they start to float.

That experiment has been going on since at least the 1950s, and like others that use animals, it’s cruel, costly and generally worthless. That’s why compassionate, forward-thinking scientists are replacing such experiments with in vitro testing, computer modeling, human-patient simulators, and other sophisticated, humane methods.

In her new book, Animalkind: Remarkable Discoveries About Animals and Revolutionary New Ways to Show Them Compassion, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk asks, “[G]iven our newfound understanding of all that is animal, how can we treat them in ways that respect their individuality and talents? Or, in other words, how can we conduct our lives happily and efficiently without having to exploit animals?”

Rats aren’t laboratory tools. They’re unique individuals who experience fear and feel pain.

We can conduct our lives just fine by choosing cruelty-free personal-care products and donating to charities that don’t fund experiments on animals. Let’s make the Year of the Rat a lasting celebration by getting them β€” and all animals β€” out of laboratories.

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Easter … next month. Go vegan:

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