Most people who know me know that I love rats. I have a strange affinity for this particular animal more than others, maybe not so strange to those who share that affinity.
I never know how to describe my attachment to the little creatures (partially for fear of sounding sentimental), but I realize that there are reasons, good ones, for the strong emotional attachment I have to them.
When I got my first rat, Elliot, I was struck by the characteristics rats possess. I’ve had a plethora of animals throughout my life. Rats are remarkably intelligent and thus inventive, personable as animals go, inquisitive, responsive, and playful. They are also social creatures and show a strong degree of awareness of others and even consideration and empathy.
I spent much time with Elliot, because he was supposed to be a companion to my sister’s rat, but he was also supposed to be girl and, due to the pet store employee’s inability to tell a immature male rat from a female rat, he could not stay in her cage, and thus was alone. I tried to make up for that isolation by letting him out of his cage whenever I was home and so he attached to me, coming whenever I called him and jumping into my lap to have his head scratched and to groom my hand. He was a wonderful pet.
I think there is something about thing being underestimated that heightens its appeal. One gets to discover these unknown traits that half the world, with their dog or cat t-shirts and facebook spam, are bragging about concerning their little darlings.
Beyond affection, though, Elliot and other rats provoked else something in me.
It wasn’t just that I realized that an underestimated, maligned animal was actually a really good pet, but I realized how unjust was the perception of rats and their subsequent treatment. It provoked my sense of justice that should not be minimized by the significance of the object of injustice or circumstance, but that recognizes the wrongness of acting or speaking worthlessness over something in which there is unacknowledged value.
I think this is intensified by the helplessness of the animal, who is at the mercy of the perceptions and intentions of the men who possess him.
The combination of the rat’s vulnerability with its attributes provokes affection with mercy. I kind of saw in Elliot every story of the stronger one demeaning the weaker one, going against God’s declaration that it is good.
So Elliot inspired me to stop buying products from companies that do unnecessary testing on animals, pretty much at the moment I started to think about the idea of Elliot enduring that kind of treatment… which eventually led me to other decisions concerning the use of animals.
This didn’t diminish my heart for people. Even more so, the desire for just treatment of all people grew from my response to animals and vice versa. I think that as we embrace justice for, maybe especially, the seemingly insignificant corners of creation, it increases our capacity for justice.
MLK said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I think of human situations when I think of this quote, and I feel recalcitrate to use it here, but I think that, really, God wants from us to embrace His justice fully, which means recognizing what He has called good and treating him/her/it accordingly… with appreciation, gentleness, kindness, mercy, and humility.
Thank you, Elliot.
Elliot with a snack