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.
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.)
(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.
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.”
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!
And at change.org.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org