Just to prove to you how adorable rats can be, here are my bubs hunting for peas in a "digging box" enrichment I made for them:
|Emma, Gracie, Lilah and Bart; four of the loves of my life.|
Through owning rats I quickly found out how little quality vet care there exists for most exotic pets, but particularly the ones that are considered expendable such as rats, gerbils and guinea pigs. I went through two vets before finding Dr. Becker, who was beyond wonderful. But still, the nearest emergency clinic that treated exotic animals was over an hour away from me, so if an accident happened and one of my rats needed a vet in the middle of the night it is very likely that they would have died before treatment could be obtained. If that's not enough for a pet owner to handle, I frequently faced people saying things to me like, "You spent how much on vet bills for a rat? They cost like five bucks, just get a new one." Or, "Just give it to me, I'll feed it to my snake." Or, "Just step on it." I'm sure you can imagine how upsetting these types of comments were, and if you can't, just picture someone saying them to an owner sitting in a vet's office about to put their retriever to sleep.
Owning my rats was an eye-opening experience that led me down the path to wanting to become an exotic animal vet to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that other owners must also feel when trying to find quality vet care. After my experiences at Purdue and Harlan working with lab rats, the desire to improve quality of life for laboratory rodents became integrated into that motivation.
While at Purdue I had the opportunity to take a class from and work on an independent study under one of the leading mouse behavior researchers out there. I was thrilled that someone else seemed to actually give a damn about rodents and learned a lot of really interesting stuff about mice from him; such as that although rodents comprise over 90% of animal research done today they are not covered under the Animal Welfare Act for ethical care and use, and that no comprehensive species ethogram exists for the lab mouse. The experience really helped to jump start my interest in research and wanting to directly contribute to improved laboratory conditions for research rodents.
Once I got down to Ross, I approached our animal behavior professor here about the possibility of getting involved in some behavior research. I was pretty vague, I didn't really care what I did, I just missed being involved in research and wanted a project. She asked me what I wanted to do, which species interested me, and I said that I was primarily interested in laboratory rodents but that we probably couldn't get them onto the island. She said that we might and she would look into it, but if we could what would I want to do? Oh boy, oh boy! What don't I want to do? I told her about a low-stress handling study that I would like to do using a technique that I developed myself while I was a lab animal care technician at Purdue. She said she'd check into the possibility of getting rats down to St. Kitts and she would get back to me.
Which brings me to what I am so excited to share with you all! Today she emailed to tell me that we could indeed ship rats here and to start a literature review and inventory list and we would begin working on a grant proposal for next semester! I am so excited! Maybe this study will prove absolutely nothing, maybe the way we currently handle rats doesn't significantly stress them, but I'm still going to be the PI on a study of my own design and if it gets published I will be lead author! HOLY CRAP!