Published: January 15, 2012
A recent scientific study suggests that rats are nicer, kinder and more considerate of each other than some of us humans, particularly when a shopping mall throws open its doors for a cut-rate special.
Rats don’t trample each other trying to get to the sock discount table, or use pepper spray to fend off fellow shoppers as they duke it out in the women’s undergarments aisle.
Also, rats don’t engage in fist-fights over a parking space.
According to the Associated Press, University of Chicago scientists studying lab rats found that rats frequently offered each other a helping paw by letting them out of a cage. Twenty-three of the 30 rats under observation opened a trap to free their buddies, sometimes even ignoring free chocolate to do so.
The rats were given a choice: Nibble chocolate or spring their pals. All but seven rats elected to give up chocolate for a few minutes to help their fellow rats. Those seven left a message on voice mail saying they were busy, leave a number, and they’d get back to them.
“Basically they told us that freeing another rat is as important as eating chocolate,” said rat lab worker Peggy Mason. “That’s a very striking thing.”
Striking indeed, Peggy, because rats generally have a bad reputation. They aren’t known as warm and fuzzy little critters. Every kid has a Teddy Bear. How many have a Teddy Rat?
There’s no Save the Rats Society, Rats Unlimited, or bumper stickers that say, “Hug Your Rat!”
With their beady little red eyes, sharp yellow teeth and scaly tails, they won’t win any animal kingdom beauty pageants.
When a tattle-tale tells on someone, he “rats them out.”
When Lucy yanks the football away from Charlie Brown he exclaims, “Rats!”
Each time the government wastes another trillion dollars, we say it “goes down the rat hole.”
All of this may be an unfair rat rap.
The lab study revealed rats can be kind and sensitive and caring. In some especially poignant cases, a few of the rats took the chocolate but didn’t eat it. They sat it aside, freed their buddies, then shared the goodies with their newly liberated brethren.
That’s real rat love.
Another interesting, though not surprising, finding: Female rats consistently displayed more empathy than the males.
Every one of the female lab rats took time to free the captives, while only 17 of 24 male rats did so. The seven no-show guy rats said they were watching football and to call back at halftime. The 17 who bothered to show up had beer on their breath, were in a bad mood, and complained constantly.
In addition to being too busy watching TV, some of the other male rat excuses for not lending a helping paw included:
“Gladys has the car.”
“Can’t do it right now. I’m being chased by a cat.”
“I’m not feeling well – too many cheese daiquiris last night.”
“I’m getting my whiskers trimmed.”
“I told you not to volunteer to be a lab rat. Get your own self out.”
One thing we learned from the study: If you’re ever thrown in jail, call a gal rat, not a guy rat, to come get you.
Maybe it’s time we sat down, reassessed our priorities, and tried to get in touch with our inner-rat.
It’s depressing to know that the average rat is more loyal and caring than some of our fellow humans – not to name any names, but Merle knows who I’m talking about.
One recent frigid evening, my car battery went dead, and I called Merle to come over with his jumper cables and give me a boost. He hemmed and hawed and said something about a bad back and how he had to stay in bed under doctor’s orders.
Merle didn’t fool me.
I could hear the game on TV in the background. Plus, it sounded like he was eating chocolate.
The dirty rat.
Larry Woody can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.