This Animal Rights Activist Reminds Us That Rats Need Rescuing Too

Mary Kate Fain organizes nonviolent protests for animal liberation in Philadelphia. And when she’s not engaged in activism, Fain comes home to five rats she’s adopted from a local sanctuary and a lab.

In honor of Rat Rescuers’ Day – July 22 — I talked with Fain about her work rescuing rats.

Mary Kate Fain

Photo Credit: Mary Kate Fain

Can you tell me how you started rescuing rats?

When I was in college, I was studying neuroscience and I was offered an opportunity to do undergraduate research. Prior to that, as a kid, I always had a pet rat.

So, when I had an opportunity to work in a rat lab, I thought, “Oh, I love rats. This will be so much fun.”

But seeing firsthand what a lab was like and having to do these tests and really just, I mean, my study was essentially traumatizing rats to see how they turned out. And within months I couldn’t take it anymore. It was just a truly horrible experience, seeing what these rats were going through. I couldn’t live with it anymore, so I quit.

And then at the time, I had actually adopted some rats from the lab, so I went on to continue having rats as pets. And then got into taking rats from different rescue situations.

Tell me about your rats.

Photo Credit: Mary Kate Fain

Photo Credit: Mary Kate Fain

So, the two from the lab, their names are Turk and JD. I got them at 10 months old.

And prior to that, they had been going through some sort of psychology experiment. Turk actually passed away recently, [but] even to this day, they still have a hard time being handled because of what they’ve experienced.

They each have their own distinct personalities. Turk was much more outgoing. He had this weird head-bobble dance that he would do. He liked to climb on top of things and be really high up and see everything.

JD was always a little bit more cuddly. He would always dig a tunnel, and hide below.

You could always tell from afar, even though they look identical to most people, which was which.

The other four, I’m still figuring out their personalities. They’re much younger.

Why do you enjoy working with rats? 

rescued rat

Photo Credit: Mary Kate Fain

Rats are incredibly social, and they love other rats, and they love human interaction when it’s done compassionately. And that makes them just really great companions to be around.

I compare them to mini dogs a lot, just in terms of their personalities. They’re fun and cuddly, and they like to play and romp around. And they’re smart and can be trained to do tricks.

But that being said, they’re sometimes less work than dogs, so that’s another benefit. You can keep them there in places you couldn’t keep a dog or a cat necessarily.

Have you learned any interesting facts about rats in your work?

Photo Credit: Mary Kate Fain

Photo Credit: Mary Kate Fain

Just how resilient they are. Knowing what they go through in the lab, you really know how traumatizing this is.

Picture a person who’s kept in solitary confinement for a third of their life. I mean, someone who’s 30 years old, and they’ve been kept in solitary confinement this entire time, except only to be picked up now and again, pushed and have poking and prodding and pain happen to them.

And imagine how that person would be like if they ever got out of that situation.

Yet, these rats have actually had that happen to them and are still able to be loving and caring and sweet and kind and playful in just an incredibly amazing way.

Rats are stigmatized by some cultures. What do you tell people who are like, “Rats? Ew.”

They certainly are very stigmatized. Obviously, there’s a lot of historical reasons why that was. Rats were carriers for specific insects that carry the plague. They carried other diseases. But anyone who’s interacted with rats on a personal level, specifically domesticated rats, will see that they’re actually incredibly clean and friendly creatures.

So, generally what I say to them is, “You want to come over and meet my rats?” And anyone who’s met them is instantly charmed.

I know you’re a vegan. How does rescuing rats fit in with your veganism?

Photo Credit: Mary Kate Fain

Photo Credit: Mary Kate Fain

It fits right in. Obviously, being a vegan’s about doing as little harm as possible to animals when we can avoid it. That’s the bare minimum when it comes to helping the animals that we’ve been oppressing.

So, I think that rescuing animals is the next most important thing that we can be doing. If people are already interested in rescuing animals, rats are just another type of animal who need rescuing.

What can people do to help rats? 

Something everyone can do is be mindful of the pest control that they’re using. People use incredibly inhumane methods when there are humane things that can be used for all rodents.

So, for example, using live traps to trap and then release animals, instead of using things like mousetraps. Absolutely the worse thing you can do to a rodent is to use a glue trap.

If someone is interested in adopting rats, I would say look into if they have a local rat rescue. And if they don’t, then even just looking on Craigslist. If you see, five rats being sold for snake food, things like that, you can rescue them and they won’t be used for food.

Sometimes schools will allow people to adopt rats that were used in their studies that were used for control rats. So, if they’re students or they have an in with the school, seeing if they could adopt rats from studies would be really amazing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Lai/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Margie F
Margie F1 years ago

Rats are so intelligent

Nicole H
Nicole H1 years ago

This is an article sent from Heaven !! I'm 66, single and handicapped. So keeping a dog is no longer possible. I can not take him/her out 3 to 4 times a day. And to be honest, I am not a cat lover, mostly because they have their strong character, and when they are not in the mood, you may beg a thousand times, but she will not come to sit on your lap. So, since many months I was asking myself : what pet could I take. When I was abt 10 years, I had brought the 2 white mice from school for a holiday period of 2 weeks. My God, my mother nearly had a heart infarct. And somewhat later, the white rats were popular, and I regularly saw a woman with a white rat on her shoulders, walking in the street. I was soooooo jealous !! But now that I"ve seen this article, I will look up where I can adopt 1 or 2 rats. In my small appartment, I still have 1 big corner where I could put a large cage to keep them there overnight, or when I take a walk in my wheelchair. Thanks so very much for this info.

Miss D
Shari F1 years ago

Maybe they despise you, Belinda. But seriously, they are very sweet really. :-)

Belinda Lang
Belinda L1 years ago

I despise rats and mice.

Roberto M
Roberto M1 years ago

grazie per questo articolo

Donna T
Donna T1 years ago

thank you

José Rafael C
Past Member 1 years ago

Lo siento, pero no me gustan las ratas; transmiten muchas enfermedades y causan muchísimos problemas en las infraestructuras.

I'm sorry, but I do not like rats; Transmit many diseases and cause many problems in infrastructures.

Mark p
Mark p1 years ago

every creature like humans have every legal rights to live in freedom!!! We humans are the the worst race on this planet! Without compassion! We live for money and treats! We have no heart at all!. I mean most of humans! What we can do to stop animal killing fort nonsense things? I'm completely disappointed over people:(!!! I W all can be ashamed of it!!! Is it possible to change the majority at all? Thanks to all Care2 members and animal supporters !!!

David P
David P1 years ago