What about the rats? UW-Whitewater students adopt classroom rodents during pandemic

May 21, 2020

Written by  Jeffrey Pohorski

Rats find a new home.

(Submitted photo/Bethany Wojchik)

  

When UW-Whitewater closed many of its buildings this spring as part of Wisconsin’s Safer-at-Home order, some students went home with more than just their personal belongings.

Frunch, Bonito, Solomon and Stanley were among 20 rats who were adopted after they were involved in a behavioral science research project that was cut short by the pandemic.

Psychology lecturer Matthew Andrzejewski and his students had to scramble to find homes for the furry animals that were living in Upham Hall science research facilities. Departmental posts and emails were sent out, and, fortunately, all were adopted by students and friends of the university.

“My psychology students usually work with eight rats at a time. Students take good care of the them, which includes feeding, weighing, measuring and gathering data every day.”

Andrzejewski’s studies behavioral economics. This research measures why a rat or other organism chooses one alternative over another. The rats are paired up in a controlled setting and perform various duties including touching a lever for sugar pellets.

Professor of Psychology Meg Waraczynski helped establish the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee on campus. Most universities euthanize animals after experiments are completed. UW-Whitewater supports animal adoption instead. This policy is unique among science departments across the U.S.

Computer science major Jacob Toberman and his roommate adopted two rats affectionately named Frunch (after the free lunch at a local church) and Bonito (after Kero Kero Bonito, his favorite band).

  

Benedito the rat.

Jacob Toberman’s light-colored rat, Bonito, is curious and active around people. (Submitted photo/Jacob Toberman)

  

Biological sciences major Samantha Pernice wants to enter the field of microbiology and virology. She adopted Charlie, who is energetic and loves attention. “I've always loved them. They are incredible animals, extremely intelligent and very affectionate.”

  

Charlie the rat.

Samantha Pernice, who has had rats since she was 10, says Charlie is an “awesome rat.” (Submitted photo/Samantha Pernice)

  

Psychology major Giona Mosehort saw the psychology department post online. “It felt like it was meant to be. I only wanted to adopt one but ended up adopting two because they were the only females left and I was told they were mother and daughter!”

  

Mom and daughter rat.

Giona Mosehart already had six other rats before adopting this mother and daughter pair from Andrzejewski’s lab. (Submitted photo/Giona Mosehart)

  

Social work alumna Bethany Wojchik took the remaining six rats two days before the Safer-At-Home order was issued. Wojchik calls them “pocket dogs” and always has a theme for naming each group she adopts.

  

White rat chills in a hammock.

One of Bethany Wojchik’s “pocket dogs” in the habitat she made for them. (Submitted photo/Bethany Wojchik)

  

“I love rats in general, and thankfully I had the supplies and resources to take them quickly. I view adopting the retired lab rats as a super unique way I can give back as a UW-Whitewater alumna.”