“Rats and cats living together, mass hysteria!”
OK, that Ghostbusters quote is actually about dogs and cats, but it totally applies to the incredible co-habitation situation going on at one very special cat rescue in New York. Instead of mass hysteria, however, the result is immensely precious.
The Brooklyn Cat Cafe, located in the Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill neighborhood of New York City, is run and operated by volunteers of the Brooklyn Bridge Animal Welfare Coalition. The non-profit opened more than one year ago, but recently captured the hearts of animal lovers everywhere when staff posted a sweet video of a unique interspecies relationship to Instagram on July 7.
Amazingly, the cafe currently “employees” two rats, Emile and Remy, as kitten caretakers. Although the species are usually enemies in the wild, the rats’ natural instincts turn decidedly maternal in this safe and protective environment.
As you can see from the video above, Emile lends a helping paw (and tongue) by sweetly bathing and giving companionship to orphan kittens, 8 weeks old and younger. Emile’s rat pal, Remy, also acts as a nanny to the cafe’s needy kittens. (The rats are raised by a rescue called HALT, Helping All Little Things.)
According to a story that first appeared on the Huffington Post, BBAWC executive director Anne Levin says the rats spend time with and help out new arrival kittens who are usually orphaned (called the “bottle babies”) and too young for vaccinations, thus necessitating their separation from other cats.
“I know the rats we have often groom themselves and each other and it seems to be both a self-comfort and a friendship connection,” Levin told Huff Post, and the cafe’s website further explains their behavior.
“Remy (grey/white) & Emile (brown) are two new, young rats who are joining the kittens in the terrarium. These boys are so active and playful and they love to share snacks with the kittens. They love vegetables and head scratches. Although rats and cats have adversarial relationships outside the terrarium – inside the kittens are the perfect size to have supervised romp and play sessions with the kittens. Because the rats are not scared of the kittens, they don’t run away and the cats don’t hunt them. However, the kittens are convinced that the rat tails are there primarily for them to play with. Remy and Emile are ok with that so long as the kittens play gently with their tails.”
Staff at the Brooklyn Cat Cafe first established this sort of symbiotic relationship through Remy and Emile’s predecessor, a rat named Ivory.
Ivory the white rat was brought in to care for a 4-week-old kitten named Ebony, who was diagnosed with Feline Leukemia. Because of her fatal illness, Ebony had to live separately from the rest of cats at the cafe. Luckily, the rescue staff had the brilliant, compassionate idea to introduce Ebony and Ivory. And much like their namesake song, the two animals lived together in perfect harmony, with Ebony spending her short time on earth cuddling and romping around with her tender rat nanny.
Ebony’s life was “so much richer for having a rat friend in Ivory,” Levin said. Sadly, Ivory also passed away recently. In February, the cafe posted a tribute to the rat (see above). In his time at the rescue facility, Ivory befriended a number of kittens.
The Brooklyn Cat Cafe notes that when a mother cat is present, the rats are only allowed to play with and care for the kittens under close observation. So far, this kitten-sitting setup has been nothing but good PR for rats, who are infamous for getting a bad rap — especially in New York City.
Of Ebony the rat (and inclusive of Emile and Remy), the cafe’s website says it best:
“He had always shown such kindness to all creatures – kittens (however obnoxious) and humans. He’s been a role model for all of us – practicing tolerance and love of all creatures.”