>>> Against Your Will
By staff writer John Marcher

August 8, 2007

One summer I had a job at an animal research facility doing tech work with the animals. So I want to take a moment here and address the issue of animal rights, and all those who find themselves concerned with it: Go fuck yourself. Then eat a steak.

Now that we've wrapped that up, back to my story. While I was working at the research facility, I was in charge of five rooms of animals: three rooms of mice, a room of rats, and a room of guinea pigs. I didn't mind the mice so much, and the guinea pigs, outside of being possibly the most disgusting beasts on earth, weren't too bad either. But the rats scared the living crap out of me.

The animals in a research facility don't come from the wild. Even though the Rats of Nimh would have you believe otherwise, animals used for research are bought in bulk from companies who breed and maintain them specifically for that reason. Some companies even genetically engineer their animals to certain specifications and then copyright them.

“He pinned one of the rats down by its neck and jammed the pipette in with all the finesse of a coal miner.”

With that said, the rats in my facility came from Harlan Industries Inc. and were known as Sprague Dawley rats. These particular rats were notable for two reasons: first, they were fucking huge (we're talking well over 500 grams and at least 18 inches in length including their tail), and second, they were all white with red eyes. I know this might not sound like the scariest of creatures but you have to understand that I have an innate fear of rats that stems from my childhood.

When I was a young lad, I was fat. I also played soccer, and as common sense would denote, that could mean only one thing: I played goalie. One day during practice a ball rolled under some of the trailers that served as classrooms at my middle school. I crawled under it in search of the ball, only to find a gigantic nest of wharf rats living there. The largest and nastiest of the rats arched his back and hissed at me in a manner that chilled me to the very bone. I quickly dropped flat on the ground and rolled out of there as fast as possible (and you can roll pretty fast when you're rotund). The experience really stuck with me through the years and when I found myself in charge of thirty-two Sprague Dawley's with bright red eyes like the fires of hell, it was only natural that I was a little nervous.

The lab staff was comprised entirely out of foreigners—mostly El Salvadorians, with the exception of two scientists who were both Russian. I tried explaining to my boss that I didn't like rats and wanted nothing to do with them, but she just laughed in my face. In her best broken English she tried to reassure me that they were the nicest, smartest, and cleanliest animals we had in the facility. This heartfelt disclosure really made me feel better about having to deal with vermin and I was able to make it through the first couple weeks of summer pretty much incident-free. It wasn't until my fifth week on the job that I was exposed to the wonders of intraocular blood sampling firsthand.

One of the very unique features about rats is that you can draw blood samples from their eye sockets without using a needle. Essentially, you take a pipette and jam it under their eye into a network of densely packed blood vessels. Researchers and technicians like this because the use of needles requires an added level of certification and protocols that they are then able to avoid. The unfortunate fact of the matter, however, is that the rats fucking hate it.

The first couple of times I had seen Lazar, the Russian scientist, pull the samples, I had just been in charge of transporting the rats back and forth from their room. But on this particular day Lazar was running behind on whatever the fuck it was he did, and he insisted I help out. Try explaining to an irritable Russian man who barely speaks your language that you don't feel like helping him take blood samples because when you were twelve you kicked a soccer ball under a trailer and ran into a distant relative of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Looking back I'm pretty sure he thought I was trying to convince him that Karl Marx was an avid collector of Beanie Babies.

He demonstrated the technique for me by pinning one of the rats down by its neck and jamming the pipette in with all the finesse of a coal miner. Naturally, the rat went crazy, struggling against Lazar's grip, and started making the same noise I had heard on that fateful day almost ten years before. My hair stood on end and my stomach churned like I had just done a fifteen second keg stand.

“See!? Now you do!” he said and quickly sauntered off into the bowels of the restricted area.

I could not believe the predicament I had gotten myself into. Up to this point the only “hands-on” dealings I had with the rats was changing their cages,and even that only involved moving them from the dirty cage to the clean one by their tail. I wanted nothing to do with the business end of these vile beasts. I took a deep breath and picked out the smallest rat I could find to start off with.

“Now listen, I don't want to be here any more than you do, but the sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can all go home. And by home, I mean back to your cage,” I said to the rat in question. He blinked at me twice and then nibbled on an itch he had on his rear leg.

I slowly pulled him up out of his container and laid him on the metal table where the samples took place. I grabbed his neck with my left hand just like Lazar had shown me and prepared the pipette with my right. I felt his whole body tense up, and as I lowered the pipette he began to try and back out of the grip I had on him. I lined up the tip with the corner of his eye just as I had been shown, took a deep breath, and jammed the pipette into his left eye socket.

The rat squealed louder than I ever imagined an animal of his size could possibly yelp and it caused me to flinch. I lost my grip on his neck for a millisecond and that was all it took. He ran to the end of the table, took a flying leap across the room with the pipette still sticking out his eye socket, and headed straight as an arrow for a small vent in the corner I hadn't even noticed up until then.

What the fuck was I supposed to do now? The rats weren't even supposed to touch the ground, and I had let this little fucker get away into the air duct system?! Worst of all I had thirty more rats to draw samples from and no desire whatsoever to complete the task. As I cleaned up the blood from my first failed attempt, I tried to think of a plan to get myself out of this mess. After a good five minutes, I came up with one.

I walked down to the wing of the facility where they took care of the rabbits, and then I waited for the tech to leave his lab momentarily. As soon as he left, I quickly rushed in and purloined some of his blood samples from the freezer. I brought them back to the lab and set them out to thaw. Now came the tricky part: I had to steal someone else's rat to replace the one I had lost.

All of the animals are accounted for by the tags attached to their cages and I knew there was no way I could get away with having one less rat than I started off with. I swung by one of my rooms of mice and picked out the fattest mouse I could find. Some of the mice I had came from a company that bred them to be obese as hell, and these mice would eat and eat and eat until they were so fat their little legs couldn't touch the ground. They would have to wait a day or two until their stomachs shrank enough to touch the ground again and then they would shuffle over to the food and start all over again. I stuck the chode in my pocket and headed for one of the other rat rooms.

The guy in charge of the other rat rooms came in at four in the morning on a daily basis so he could leave by two and get in a round of golf. I only knew this because he was pretty much the only American who worked in the lab and therefore the only person I could talk to about sports. I looked for a rat similar in size to the one I lost and brought it back to the lab where I was working, leaving the fat mouse in Lazy American's cage. I then distributed the rabbit samples in the vials marked for the rats, brought the rats and their cages back to their room, and clocked out for the day with my fingers crossed that somehow my hair-brained scheme would work.

The next day at work Lazar, my boss, Lazy American, and the rabbit tech were all shouting at each other over what I can only assume was an argument about who was to blame for the mix up. I don't know if you've ever heard an argument take place in English, Spanish, and Russian all at the same time, but it sounds a lot like the Portuguese version of American Idol, and is equally productive. The best part was that Lazar should never have asked me to do the blood work in the first place, and because of that he kept my name out of the whole thing.

I came away from that experience having learned a valuable lesson: if someone ever jams a pipette in your eye, scream as loud as possible, head for the first exit you see, and don't look back.