Recent rats-in-restaurants footage has repulsed nearly every New Yorker — Au Bon Pain, anyone? — except perhaps for those in the city’s small rat-enthusiast contingent. Raquel Cintron is one of them; for twenty years she’s raised pet rats and participates in New York and international rat organizations. We spoke to her yesterday about the difference between domestic rats and wild ones, and about her spiritual connection to subway rats.
What do you think of the restaurant rat-infestation story?
I saw the video on the Internet, and I thought the rats were cute. They don’t belong in a restaurant, but that’s the fault of human beings who didn’t block up holes or left garbage hanging around. If we provide food, water, and shelter, the rat thrives.
How do you react to a rat on a subway platform?
I stand there and look at him and he stands there and looks at me because we love each other. Rat lovers see them as intelligent creatures, as survivors, and we respect wild rats’ connection to the domestic rat. But I don’t want him coming toward me, because he could bite. It’s not good to interact with any wild animal.
Herbie’s my 26th rat and has been the most loving from the moment I touched him. Herbie always wants to groom me, to touch my body with his tongue and his cheek. We interact with each other the way two rats would. I scratch his back, and he grooms my hand.
How’d another pet rat, Cinder, die recently?
Cinder developed a brain lesion and reached the point where we were talking about euthanasia, but just then — we talk this way — he “took himself to the rainbow bridge.” We’re awaiting the necropsy results.
I’m spending $500 to have the remains flown to Sacramento for a necropsy. It’s good to know what happened so we can learn what to do for the next animal.
Do people have a visceral reaction to your rats?
Absolutely! People say, “You have rats? What’s wrong with you?” That’s where ten years of rat promotion comes in. I’m not saying I can go around converting the staunchest rat hater out there, but you talk to people and they’ll at least open up their minds a little bit.
—Andrew Adam Newman