The Rat Who Loved Bach


Vegetarian/Vegan is more than a diet….it is a lifestyle.  Once you open the door to compassionate eating, it is not a huge leap to get to compassionate living. Choosing to question animal experimentation is part of a compassionate lifestyle.  


Last week I was part of a debate on animal experimentation at the University of Georgia.  A major argument of those in favor of animal experimentation was lack of intelligence in other species.  Two of these presenters spoke of their love for the very intelligent dogs and cats living in their homes. When I asked if they would be willing to give up their dogs and cats for invasive experiments, they said yes they would.  The belief/myth that animal experimentation is the best use of funds and scientific knowledge for our species is that strong in our society. 


The majority of experiments are for cosmetics and household product companies’ liability. And most of those under the medical research/education umbrella do not contribute to human health.  There is a huge financial network that relies on institutions continuation of animal studies (including: grants, lab chow and lab housing companies).  


No law in the United States prohibits any experiment. The only federal law that applies to animals used for research—the Animal Welfare Act—excludes rats, mice, birds (who combined make up about 90 percent of all animals used in research), cold-blooded animals, and animals commonly used for food. For those included in the AWA, only food, water and housing are specified.


During the debate, I kept thinking about Willy.  Most humans think only our species has intelligence, let alone a sense of aesthetics. 


Willy was my friend Kathy’s rescued rat.  He had a great life that included full run of the house.  He would return to his always open cage to eat and drink on one side of it and urinate/defecate on the other side. Kathy is a pianist who practices long hours each day.  Occasionally Willy would run over to Kathy and rest on her shoulder as she played.  At some point, Kathy realized that Willy only came to listen to pieces by Bach.  With 100% regularity, he would appear on her shoulder within minutes of her beginning anything by Bach, but no other composers. 


I thought about birds (also not protected under the AWA).  Male bowerbirds build extravagant tunnels (bowers) to attract a mate.  Young females are taken on a tour of the bowers by an older bird who instructs them in the finer points of bower choosing.  The males use found items and create paint using seeds and saliva to decorate their bowers.


Then there is Frank. We don’t question the loyalty of dogs, but what about crows? Frank was a crow who was rescued by my friend Alyssa.  Alyssa found him at the base of a tree after his mother was killed and the nest was destroyed.  She raised him and released him.  But Frank did not want to go anywhere else.  He lived his life in the giant oak next to Alyssa’s house and would race down her long driveway to greet her whenever she arrived home.  He would then ride on her shoulder to the door of the house before flying back up to his tree.  Once, when an intruder was aggressive with Alyssa, Frank attacked him repeatedly until he fled and Alyssa was safe.


We are only aware of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the perceptions, feelings and abilities of non-human species.  We tend to care for those we know and love. Perhaps one day we will be able to see beyond the fur, feathers and fins of their bodies to relate to and care for all species.  



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