Facing My Fear of Rats | St. Lawrence University

Facing My Fear of Rats

Friday, April 10, 2020

I would like to start off by saying I am an avid animal lover and the proud owner of two amazing dogs. There are just a couple of animals that make me uncomfortable to even think about. Every animal in the rodent family makes me feel uneasy. Not even beloved house pets such as the hamster or guinea pig seem cute to me. The biggest culprit in the rodent family is the rat.  Their long skinny tails and weird feet/paws/ and overall existence made me feel nauseous. I have no idea what triggered my negative feelings for these animals, but my fear was real. This fear became a problem for me as I decided to be a Psychology major. 

As a psychology major, one of the requirements is PSYC-205: Research Methods. I sat in class on the first day reviewing the syllabus and the professor’s expectations from us, everything seemed normal. Then he revealed that our first project was going to be Skinner’s Operant Conditioning. This meant we were required to train a rat for five weeks to push a lever through positive reinforcement. We were required to feed, weigh, and train our rat every day. After the five weeks, if we wanted, we could keep the rat as a pet. I wasn’t sure how this would go as I screamed whenever I saw a squirrel dart out of nowhere or pop out of a trash can. When I told my friends there was a combination of laughter and jealousy, as they apparently all think rats are cute. They also all wanted my rat after the lab was done. My fear of rats soon became a running joke in my Research Methods class. 

I received advice from my mom, who was also a psychology major, telling me these rats were not street rats and I would not get a disease. She shared with me how it is typical to create a connection with your trained rat through time and patience, a similar connection to that of my two dogs. Narrowly mindedly, I quickly dismissed everything she said as she clearly didn’t have the same view of rats that I did. When another Psychology professor found out about my fear, I was told the same thing, “we need to fix your perception of the rat, so you don’t view them negatively." While I knew this, it was a lot harder to actually do. The first time we took a class trip to the Vivarium, home to the mice and rats of St. Lawrence, I had a slight panic attack. I decided to close my eyes and cover my nose. This made the experience worse, hearing them running around in their containers, seeing their long skinny tails, and I could feel the mice’s red eyes on me. It was all too overwhelming. All of a sudden, my mind went to these rats and mice escaping the containers and the room soon being filled with rouge rodents. 

Luckily my professor, TA, and group members were understanding of my fear and helped me the best they could. During class time, handling the rat was smooth sailing as I had my other two group members put her in and out of the box along with weighing her. The problems started outside of class. I trained, weighed, and fed her on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. This meant I was alone, me and the rat. I overconfidently believed that I would suck it up and just train the rat. Unfortunately, that tactic did not work and soon I had to text my TA for help. While I did not touch the rat, I still trained her.

I soon began a routine every weekend of texting my TA of when to meet in Johnson and together we were able to make sure my rat was trained, fed, and weighed. Soon enough the five weeks came to end, and my rat and I parted ways. While I have not fully conquered my fear of rats, I have learned to co-exist with these strange animals.  This is just one example of how SLU has challenged me. With the help of my peers and professors, I was able to face my fears and come out a stronger person. While on campus, you will have to face your own “rat” but know you can do it because the SLU believes in you and so do I.