All the rats had outdoor time. They loved it. Oliver was especially smart. He was snake bait originally, but the snake was full and Oliver lucked out. I taught him to hi-five, sit, shake, paw, stand on his back legs and "beg". It was easy with the power of the apple. Oliver loved apples. But is favorite time was after the training. I'd tell him "all finished" and give him two small bits of apple. He would hoard them.
As we passed by Thelma and Louise's open cage door, both of the girls would be standing on the ledge. I would drop Oliver off and he'd rush over to Thelma and give her the BIGGEST apple piece. Despite Louise's rudeness to him, he'd always give her the other piece. But it was always the smallest one. In those moments, I knew rats possessed myriad emotions and thought, that they could make decisions based on perceived fairness, and that they were compassionate and generous.
When Louise died of mammary cancer, it was (neutered) Oliver who comforted Thelma. When Thelma became sick with cancer, Oliver wrapped himself around her. She died in his embrace. By that point, Oliver was nearly 3 years old, ancient in rat years. He died a week later.
So it is not surprising to me that researchers have learned what people with companion rats have known all along - rats are empathetic.
In the experiment, two rats are socialized around each other for two weeks. Once they become friends, researchers performed a mean trick on one of the rats. She would be placed in a tube that prohibited movement. The tube would be placed back in the cage with the other rat. The other rat would then find a way to break out her friend, even ignoring chocolate to help her cagemate. She'd then share the chocolate!
Rats are not "lowly" animals. They are intelligent, thoughtful and even empathetic. When they see the suffering of a friend, they do not merely understand or experience those emotions themselves, they try to rectify the situation. That is pretty neat.
You can help rats! If you have the space and time to commit to caring for a rat, adopt two! There are many rats in shelters who face euthanasia because people fail to realize how awesome rats are as companions.
Never use poisons or kill traps to stop rats. Instead, use humane live traps to capture and relocate rats to safe areas where they can thrive. Prevent rats from even entering your property to begin with!
And of course, we believe other species, like cows and pigs, are just as empathetic as rats. We've seen it. So if you want to help them, start transitioning over to a vegan lifestyle...you can be empathetic too!
PS: You can see video of the rats here.