Rats Have Very Important Job Babysitting Newborn Kittens
“These kittens are slobs, essentially, so [the rats] will clean them up... The fact that they’re grooming them, to me, says that there is a strong relationship” 💞
Sometimes the most unlikely friendships are the most rewarding.
Case in point: Remy and Emile, two caring rats with a very important job.
Remy and Emile live at the Brooklyn Cat Cafe, a volunteer-driven nonprofit run by Brooklyn Bridge Animal Welfare Coalition (BBAWC). Here, the twosome groom, snuggle and romp around with kittens 8 weeks old and younger. The rats care for the kittens until they grow large enough to leave the nursery (known by staffers as the “kitten terrarium”) and go home with their adoptive families.
The pairing may seem like one of the more unconventional interspecies friendships, but these kittens are far from predators when it comes to their rat best friends.
The young rats were adopted in April from Helping All Little Things (HALT), a rescue organization devoted to saving small animals. Remy and Emile were aptly named after the two brothers from Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” and they closely resemble their animated counterparts. Remy is a portly brown rat, while Emile is slender with gray and white markings.
The rats are kind and affectionate, notes Anne Levin, founder and manager at Brooklyn Cat Cafe. They love to climb, play, give kisses and be pet by the staff. “With Emile, you rub his belly and he makes these cute tinkly sounds, like he’s laughing, and it’s incredibly sweet,” Levin tells The Dodo.
We tend to think of rats and cats as mortal enemies, but when you see them interacting with the feline babies, the mutual love is hard to deny.
Raised around cats from a young age, Emile and Remy are not scared of the kittens at all, Levin says. “They sleep with them, and they all cuddle up in the hammock when the kittens are old enough to get up there,” Levin says. “These kittens are slobs, essentially, so [the rats] will clean them up, and it’s clearly not that they want the cat food, because the bowl is 5 inches away and they could just go over there and eat as much as they want. The fact that they’re grooming them, to me, says that there is a strong relationship.”
The rats tend to the babies like two doting fathers, though it’s pretty apparent they are not of the same species. “Even though the kittens are clearly different sizes, I think [the rats] recognize that they are not adults, so they have a paternal attitude towards them,” Levin says.
And, like all parents and babysitters, their patience is tested frequently, as their tails make “the perfect cat toy.” Remy and Emile are “really tolerant” of the kittens’ antics, but they are not afraid to reprimand if the play goes too far. “They’ll sometimes chase them around, but the rats are really able to defend themselves,” Levin says, “and they’ll give them an innocent little nip if someone gets too excited.”
Out of the 15 young kittens in the nursery, one 5-week-old black and white tuxedo cat, Jo, is especially fond of her rat pals. “She was always more adventurous and zealous than her siblings,” Levin says. “Her siblings would just lay in a pile and eat and sleep, and Jo thought that was really boring, so she would go up into the top area, which is usually where the rats hang out. She would hang out in the hammock with them, and they have this den area, and she would go in there and sleep with them. So she has a closer relationship with them — they play with her and romp with her more than they do the others. With the others, it’s much more paternal.”
Even though the relationship between the rats and cats is loving, they are rarely left unattended while they play. “Because the kittens need to be fed 24 hours a day, someone is with them almost all the time, so there is supervision,” Levin notes.
Overnight sleepovers are also a big no-no, especially when there is a nursing momma cat around. The cats and rats go to their own separate living areas when the Cat Cafe closes, adds Levin, “you know, in case mom decides she wants a midnight snack.”