By Heathcote Williams
An Animal Rights Poem from All-Creatures.org

By Heathcote Williams

Rat leash
Art by Elena Caldera


Rats have beaten us

In a competition that

We’ve now given up on.

‘And what might that be?

Why would we compete with rats?

For food? for water?

Spreading diseases?

Performing on a treadmill

As it spins around?’


No, none of the above.

It’s empathy. Compassion.

They’re in the lead now,

For they’ll always help

Another rat in distress.

Even when something

Else, like chocolate –

A rat’s favorite treat –

Is offered instead.


A rat spurns chocolate

To help another rat escape –

To worry away

At a little door,

And open it from outside,

Until the trapped rat,

Its fellow creature,

Is liberated.

Then, when it’s been freed,

The pair seem to dance.

The rat that’s released

Will then follow the other

One round for hours,

And it licks its liberator

To show appreciation.


When a rat baby

Cries, other infant

Rats, the babies in the nest,

Will cry out in sympathy.

Rats give their children

Toys to play with, bits of stick.


All these reactions

Show the rat has a


Mandate to help rats.

It’s rat altruism.


The activist, Charlie Veitch

Of the Love Police,

Set up a series

Of human experiments

In the financial

District of London.


Appearing to have a knife,

Sticking in his chest

He spread-eagled himself

In Threadneedle street,

Looking as if he was dead.

Blood was oozing out.

A friend filmed it all.


Passers-by ignored Charlie –

Going on their way

To their offices.

They left him just where he was,

Preferring their rewards –

Their forms of chocolate –

To helping someone.

For tasty lumps of money trump

Saving someone’s life.

Rat drawing

Could this perhaps prove

That in a profit-driven

Economy like ours

Compassion’s not on tap

Since it ‘slows things down’?


Yet human rat-racers

Choose to slander rats.

“Rats leave sinking ships” they say

As if common sense was a crime.


Social cohesion

In cockroaches is tight too:

They don’t borrow money

To fight wars, only to be crushed

By debt mountains.


But rats and cockroaches

Test our comfort zone.

It’s best that we despise them

To know who we are.

Though of course we’re them…


In the year 2000,

Chinese scientists

Unearthed a fossil

125 million years old.


They gave it a name,

‘Eomaia Scansoria’

Or Dawn Mother.


This tiny tree-rat

Was a placental rodent –

A cunning, and curious

Tree-hugging shrew

Which, when it was free

Of dinosaur predators,

Turned into us.


We were rats once.

Now we’re ex-rats –

Self-hating ex-rats.


Though the rat,

Rattus Rattus,

Unchanged by being urbanised

But not yet socially neutered

Might see humans’ disgust

As laughable –

And rats can laugh.


When their vocalizations are slowed down

And they’re tickled,

You hear sounds of enjoyment.

You’re hearing laughter.

Rats will then follow the hand that’s tickling them

And they’ll nudge it until it tickles them again.


Rats, in other words,

Can get us to make them laugh.

brown Rat


First posted on IT International Times, reprinted here with permission.

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