Learning Mercy and Justice Through Rats

For Bailey.

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

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One response to “Learning Mercy and Justice Through Rats

  1. wow, this entry made me weep. i randomly came across your blog in a search. i have quite an affection for our pet rats. my son and i have a blog devoted to our silly adventures with them. i have often felt there is something so mysterious and thought provoking about the gentle humility of a rat. we’ve received our fair share of criticism from folks who dislike rats, but i’m always confused by their responses.

    for me, it’s hard to NOT to ponder the mysteries of God when i’m face to face with something so affectionate, smart, loyal, trusting and curious. and to find this blog entry, well…it just really choked me up because you have a rare insight that is so helpful and has given me much to think about.

    it’s not quite a same as what you’re describing in this entry, but a friend encouraged me one day with a story about her love for her dog, and how he taught her to appreciate the most precious gift she’s ever been given (see link below). i’m grateful that God was gracious enough to give us these “little gifts” that teach us such powerful lessons about His love for us. here’s a link to the segment i wrote about how her dog came to be called “Holy Spirit Junior”.

    http://ringosrattales.blogspot.com/2012/03/charlie-follows-her-everywhere.html

    i read the “about this blog” section of your site and was impressed by your description of who you are and who you want to become, what you value, and what you want to do. based on this post alone, i have a feeling you will touch many lives though your insight into God’s creation.

    this entry has given me lots of food for thought as i examine my own life. i want to be a good steward of what God has placed in my care. however, i promise, promise, promise that we did NOT hurt our pet rats in these photos! they are ridiculously compliant and participate willingly. the beige rat that appears in many of the posts is chosen because he’s practically narcoleptic. we can put him to sleep within seconds by scritching his sweet little cheek, then we tend to place props near him for the photo shoot. i assure you, these little guys get way more attention and love than the average household pet. 🙂

    i look forward to checking in on your blog.

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