Rats ARE Companion Animals

pet rat 3

Justice For The Rats in Chicago

As I sit here typing this, my dog is at my feet, snoring away, dreaming of the last two hours she spent chewing on her toy, my cat is in his bed in the other room, undoubtedly dreaming of his latest attempts to get the dogs to play with him, and my rats are beside me, sleeping in their little house, tails curled over their heads, bellies stuffed full with the slices of banana that I just gave them. Of all these tell me, which of my pets is a true “companion”? Is my dog more of a “companion” than my cat because she is in the same room with me? Are my rats the better examples of “companions” because they were the last animals I had interaction with? If I told you to pick one of these animals as my true “companion” in order to abandon the others under that title, could you do it? Would it make sense for you to do it? Of course not, certainly not to me. But this simple word is causing a major stir in a case of animal cruelty in Chicago, Illinois.

Because of my own feelings on this matter, I feel that I must put out a disclaimer to all readers. The topic discussed in this article is heart-breaking for any animal lover and may cause distress. The very nature of animal cruelty can be graphic in the retelling. It is not my intention to relive the pain that these animals went through, but to encourage others to stand up for those who suffered. I will not include links to the video discussed, nor show a still photo of what occurred, as I believe that such action shares the spirit of the suffering rather than the spirit of standing firm against suffering. You will see what I mean in a moment. Also, I find it important to state that I do not live in the state of Illinois and am quoting legal wording from Peggy McCoy’s Facebook updates and her petition “Justice for the Washer Rats!” at change.org, as that is what is available to me at the moment. I apologize for any errors in that quoting and cannot claim them as mine beyond that I copied them to this page without full knowledge of the actual text. I will credit the legal text when I quote from it.


Before I go farther, I would like to clarify how I am using the term “companion animal.” Webster’s New Pocket Dictionary defines the word “companion” in this way: n. 1 comrade; associate 2 thing that matches or goes with another. In a post from April 23rd, Peggy McCoy quoted the law as saying that a “companion animal” is “an animal that is commonly considered to be, or is considered by the owner to be, a pet. ‘Companion animal’ includes, but is not limited to, canines, felines, and equines.” There. We’ve gotten that out of the way. So, look at my above statements about the animals in my home and tell me, with this new understanding, which one of them is NOT my “companion animal.”

Give up? According to those associated with this case, my rats are NOT “companion animals.” If this sounds confusing to you, then you are not alone. Rat owners around the globe were horrified to hear the news of a woman who put her rats in the washing machine, turned it on and watched them drown. How do we know this happened? She made a video and posted it to Facebook.

scales of justice

Who among us thinks that throwing a cat in a sack and tossing it in the river to drown is acceptable behaviour? Who among us believes that beating a puppy to death with a baseball bat should be common practice? I should hope there is not one soul reading this who would stand up and say that intentionally hurting or killing animals is the right thing to do. As a racing fan, I certainly know enough people who criticize me for my love of the sport, sighting all of the opportunities for cruelty that come up –  from using the crop to training incidents, overwork, and beyond. If we can be angry over excessive use of a crop, should we not be angry over the unnecessary torture of these rats?

That word is the true issue here: “torture.” They were not thrown in the bath tub and left to fend for themselves, they were not abandoned by the side of the road, left for the public to take care of. These rats were intentionally placed inside a washing machine and filmed as they died a cruel, unspeakable death. I will admit here that I have not seen this video, I have only seen the stills of it that were included in some of the news reports that have been circulating around the rat communities, and even those bring such tears to my eyes that I must quickly turn away.

The guilty parties were taken into custody and were charged with cruelty to animals, which means they were at least charged with something, may face some time in jail and/or be forced to pay a fine. Those who are unaware of this case are probably wondering why this still upsets so many people. The answer lies in the two charges that were NOT brought up because the rats were not deemed worthy of the title “companion animal.” (Here I quote Peggy McCoy’s copy of the law, from change.org.)

judge's gavel

(510 ILCS 70/3.02)
Sec. 3.02. Aggravated cruelty.
(a) No person may intentionally commit an act that causes a companion animal to suffer serious injury or death. Aggravated cruelty does not include euthanasia of a companion animal through recognized methods approved by the Department of Agriculture unless prohibited under subsection (b).
(b) No individual, except a licensed veterinarian as exempted under Section 3.09, may knowingly or intentionally euthanize or authorize the euthanasia of a companion animal by use of carbon monoxide.
(Source: P.A. 96-780, eff. 8-28-09.)

(510 ILCS 70/3.03)
Sec. 3.03. Animal torture.
(a) A person commits animal torture when that person without legal justification knowingly or intentionally tortures an animal. For purposes of this Section, and subject to subsection (b), “torture” means infliction of or subjection to extreme physical pain, motivated by an intent to increase or prolong the pain, suffering, or agony of the animal. (Source: P.A. 91-351, eff. 7-29-99; 92-650, eff. 7-11-02.)

What is the difference?  A charge is a charge, right? Wrong. Aside from the fact that the very nature of the crime is described in the charges that were NOT filed, adding those charges would change the crime from being a misdemeanour to being a felony. A felony.

rats sharing food

After everything that has happened over the last few weeks, many rat owners have learned one thing: we all should be begging for laws like this to be changed. No one would think twice of applying the more serious, felony charges if the animals in question had been toy poodles or little kittens, but because they were rats, and because rats are not seen as “companion animals”, only a misdemeanour will do. A life is a life. When a human kills another human, we don’t look at the usefulness of the victim and base the murder charge on that. No one says “Oh, the guy only killed a garbage collector, not a rocket scientist. We’ll let him off easy this time.” To be honest, if you want to be technical about it, when you compare rats to dogs or cats, it is the RAT who is the rocket scientist.

That is the message we want to send to law makers, lawyers and anyone else who will listen right now. Rats are just as worthy of the title “companion animal” as your dog, your horse or your cat. Rats are smart, loving parts of our household who show compassion for their owners and fellow animals. Rats have been given the same important jobs as dogs have, including drug and bomb sniffing. Some rats are even used as therapeutic animals and service animals. Rat lovers around the world are hoping to spread the word that these creatures are sweet, loveable, and worthy of being called our “companions.”

Deimos the rat


How do we do this? Research the case, contact those involved and share a story about any rat you know. You don’t have to be a rat owner to explain to someone else that rats are “companion animals.” Anyone can tell a story of a rat they know, the important thing is to remind the reader that just like dogs, cats, horses and other animals, RATS have a place in the hearts of pet owners everywhere. If you have photos, send one. It’s time to make rats equal in the eyes of animal cruelty laws.

For more information, follow the following links:

Justice for the Washer Rats!

On Facebook

And at change.org.

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has purchased, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at mirrani@yourpetspace.info

13 thoughts on “Rats ARE Companion Animals

  1. A brilliantly written article, hopefully one that will get hearts and minds changed as to how awesome these little companions truly are. When I cry one of my 11 ratties always comes to lick my tears and give me a cuddle. When my husband goes away on business on special boy would sleep at my feet so I wouldn’t be alone, he would go as far as to start pulling my pajamas down because it was time to put my book down and go to sleep and as soon as I did that and switched off the light he’d be between my ankles all curled up. These pets are so clever that you can potty train them let alone teach them tricks. Some of mine love playing hide and seek or Mommy’s gonna get you, that I don’t ‘get’ them soon enough they come pounce on me. Then I scoop them up and give kisses and put them down again. They get to know their names and come when you call. These are more than just companion pets, to so many they’re children, every much as part of the family as human children. In fact they need even more care than the usual companion pet. They are exotic animals and need specialized vets to treat them. When they get sick a rat owner will not only take their rat to the vet but often spend thousands and have ops done even though they have such short life spans. In short we do whatever we can in the time we have with them to give them happy, healthy and loving lives as our companion pets.

    • Thanks for reading nd replying! My boys and I just spent three months at my mother’mother’s house, sharing my old bed. They would climb on my belly and nest in the covers. The best way to wake up was hearing them whuffling in my ear and opening my eyes to see two little faces giving me that “I think it’s time for breakfast” face.

  2. Awesome article. My web site is a reflection of everyone in the rat community who sees rats as the incredible animal companions they can be. I am getting my site up and running before the end of the month. I feel very fortunate and proud to spread awareness that rats truly are worthy, and deserve the same respect and care as any companion animals that can be found in my opening message and side links on my home page.

    • Gerald, our site would love to exchange links with you. Let me know if you’d like to do that. 🙂


    • Thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed the article. Keep an eye on this site. I am interviewing the handler of Toby, the Broadway rat some time this month. 🙂

  3. Great article! In your bio it says you have purchased and bred rats. Please, if you do love them as you say, do not perpetuate their status as a commodity by buying or breeding them. There are enough unwanted and poorly cared-for rats living lonely lives by themselves in small cages, with no vet care or mental stimulation, neglected and abused by bored “owners” that thought that they could just “buy” the perfect companion for themselves and couldn’t or didn’t want to then spend the money for when they got sick or old since vet care is expensive. Please advocate for them by rescuing the ones that are already here.

  4. The Rat Fan Club

    Rats! The Perfect Pet?

    Let’s hear it for rats! These friendly, curious, affectionate animals are unfortunately ignored or even despised by many people. Say the word “rat” and most people think of wild rats, but domestic rats are as different from wild rats as dogs are from wolves! Some of us rat fans like to call our rattie companions ratzels, ratzies or raffins.

    Rats are great companions for both adults and kind, responsible kids. Because rats are so small, children under age 8 should interact with rats under adult supervision to insure proper handling.

    Rats are especially suited as companions because they’re social animals (unlike hamsters) and love to interact with people. They’re very personable and bond to people. Most rats will beg to be petted or to come out and play, and many will show affection by grooming their people with licks and gentle nibbles. Many rats like to sit on a shoulder just to be with their person.

    Rats are smart enough to learn their name and to come when called. They love to play games with people, from wrestling and chase, to hide-n-seek, tag, and peek-a-boo! They can even learn to sit up, jump through a hoop, play basketball and do many other tricks.

    Rats have very little odor and they keep themselves clean with constant grooming. Any bad odor is caused by wastes and means the cage isn’t being cleaned often enough for the type of litter being used. Rats need less maintenance (and general care is less expensive) than larger companion animals such as dogs, but they do need regular care, and do best with plenty of attention and playtime. Naturally nocturnal, rats are most active in the morning and evening when most people are home from work or school. But they will easily adjust their schedule to come out for attention during the day. And unlike some other companion animals, rats are very quiet.

    • Thanks for the comments, Jim. I have had rats since I was in the second grade and it always surprises me when scientists “discover” that they are smart, compassionate animals. Every rat owner knows no scientific testing is needed to prove that, right? Just spend time with them, you’ll learn fast! 😉 I have converted many folks to being rat lovers, my father being the first! 🙂 I have an interview withthe handler of Toby, the Broadway rat, coming up, it will deal with converting people into rat lovers. Keep an eye out for it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *