All of us in the pet rat community know that rats are clearly companion animals and find it astonishing that we should even have to defend this. We also know that there is no difference between the rats that end up fed to snakes and the rats that we love and adore, and both deserve the same protections when it comes to abuse. However, those who have not walked in our shoes can have a hard time seeing through our eyes. Below is my attempt to provide others a glimpse into our world.
Domesticated rats are companion animals. They love and are loved by their owners in the same way as cats or dogs and deserve the same protections.
|My youngest son watching TV with
one of our first rats, Weasel
|Bela and Ruby were intended to be snake food at a reptile store when
Animal Control closed the store. They were adopted out to us by EARPS.
Domesticated rats are sometimes fed to snakes; however, there are no genetic, biological, or behavioral differences between rats fed to snakes and those kept as pets. In fact, many pet rats start out life destined for a snake. Some snake owners become attached to their rats and opt to keep some as pets alongside their snakes. Any living creature can be food for something else, but that does not define them. Rats are companion animals first and foremost. Just because it is legal for certain types of companion animals to be also used as food for other animals does not make it a lesser crime to abuse those animals. The abuse of any domesticated rat, regardless of what fate has been selected for him, should be prosecuted with the same severity as the abuse of any other companion animal.
|My oldest son having some soup with Jo in his collar
Our family shares our home with two dogs and seven pet rats. We pay more in veterinary bills to care for our rats than we do for our dogs, because rats are vulnerable to many health issues that often require medication and/or surgery. We frequent two qualified veterinary practices to seek care for our rats, including treatment for injuries, illness, and tumors and elective procedures such as neuters (all of our girls get spayed and our boys get neutered when needed). This is how health concerns are addressed in companion animals.
|Home to our family rats
We have large cages to house our rats, filled with toys, huts, tubes, litter boxes, and home-sewn hammocks. We provide a quality rat diet and cook fresh foods for them. We take them out of their cages for at least an hour every day. They have their own rat-safe room to explore during supervised out time. My children choose to spend quality time with them every day. They help nurse them when they are ill and encourage them to eat when their appetite is poor. When their time comes, we bring them to the vet to let them go peacefully without suffering. When they pass away, we all grieve. It is hard. Our vet sends us sympathy cards because they know every loss is difficult. This is how companion animals are cared for.
|Our rats at the cage door ready to greet us,
like a dog at your front door when you
come home from work
Our family is not unique. We are just one household of many in the pet rat community. But there is nothing ordinary about the rats who have touched our lives. Each has a unique personality and a special soul. Those who have never met a domesticated rat may be prejudiced against them, confusing them with their wild counterparts. They are not vermin, dirty, or disposable. They are clean, gentle, and loving. They have been selectively bred as such for over a hundred years. They are trusting of their people. They would not imagine that their people would ever hurt them, and they go along eagerly wherever their people take them. We need to protect them when their people abuse that trust as we would protect any other companion animal. They are not defined as food. They are defined as companion.
If the description I have provided does not define companion animal, nothing does. 510 ILCS 70/2.01a (Illinois law) defines a companion animal as “an animal that is commonly considered to be, or is considered by the owner to be, a pet." There can be no doubt that domesticated rats own that definition. Countless Facebook groups and rat communities like GooseMoose (www.goosemoose.com) and the Rat Shack (www.ratshackforum.com/forum/) are a testament to this fact. Domesticated rats are companion animals and deserve the same protections as cats and dogs.