Animal Emotions: Empathic Rodents by Marc Bekoff

Tens of millions of rodents are used in all sorts of invasive research yet the United State’s Federal Marc Bekoff - Empathic RatsAnimal Welfare Act does not consider these empathic mammals to be animals. Indeed, about 99 percent of the animals used in research are not protected by federal legislation and are routinely subjected to horrific abuse. Here is a quote from the federal register: “We are amending the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations to reflect an amendment to the Act’s definition of the term animal. The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 amended the definition of animal to specifically exclude birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research” (Vol. 69, no. 108, 4 June 2004).

Now, at last, there is some sort of good news for these rodents. New guidelines suggest that the cages for females and their babies should be larger than they currently are. And this has researchers in a tizzy because it will cost them more money to house them and they may not be able to breed as many as they currently do. The new guidelines suggest that a female mouse and her litter should get at least 51 square inches, while a female rat plus her litter should get at least 124 square inches. Do the math—it’s recommended that a family of mice should be housed in about a 7 x 7 inch cage and a female rat and her family should be housed in a 12 x 12 inch cage. These are not exactly large areas.

It’s important to recognize that the new recommendations are not hard-and-fast rules and there’s no consequence for ignoring them. According to the NPR report, “The National Institutes of Health [NIH] is taking comments on the rodent housing issue until the end of the month. And research institutions have about a year to evaluate their program and decide whether they need to make changes to comply with the new guidelines.”

Please take the time to comment on the above wishy-washy guidelines. You can contact members of Congress and also write to the NIH. You can directly contact Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, at 9000 Rockville Pike Bethesda, MD 20892; email:; telephone: 301-496-2433.

Let’s make the lives of the tens of millions of captive rodents better as we also work to end research on them. Although the Animal Welfare Act does not consider them to be animals, they are, indeed, members of the animal kingdom, and are highly sentient, sensitive, and empathic beings at that. They deserve far more protection than they receive.

Marc BekoffMarc Bekoff is a former Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He has won many awards for his scientific research including the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Marc has written more than 200 articles, numerous books, and has edited three encyclopedias. His books include the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, The Ten Trusts (with Jane Goodall), the Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, the Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships, Minding Animals, The Emotional Lives of Animals, Animals Matter, and The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Increasing Our Compassion Footprint. In 2005 Marc was presented with The Bank One Faculty Community Service Award for the work he has done with children, senior citizens, and prisoners. In 2009 he became a scholar-in-residence at the University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection and a faculty member of the Humane Society University. In 2009 he also was presented with the St. Francis of Assisi Award by the New Zealand SPCA.

Original article: Psychology Today, Published January 16, 2012

To learn more about Marc, please visit the links above!

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3 Responses to Animal Emotions: Empathic Rodents by Marc Bekoff

  1. Brian says:

    Thanks Marc for your tireless work, allowing all of us to remember the oneness we share!

    Namaste, Brian

    • Fatma says:

      Thank you for this beautiful entry. What you wrote about seeing the beauty in all living creatures is priceless. Thanks for all you do to educate your students!

  2. michael mellin says:

    I began to lose my enthusiasm for science and the federal subsidy of scientific research when a friend of mine spent the summer at Wellesley College shooting up pregnant mice with methamphetamine, aborting their unborn offspring and chopping them up to measure tissue absorption of methamphetamine.

    Today, she’s a doctor, but thank god she doesn’t actually treat people.

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