These heroic rodents are showing the world why we need to rethink how we feel about rats.

Everything you think you know about rats is wrong.

Think they're dirty? Wrong. They spend hours cleaning themselves every day.

Think they were responsible for the bubonic plague? Wrong again. It was fleas, who were just as likely to be found on cats, dogs, and even gerbils!


Think they're ugly? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Rats are cute! Just look at this little guy.

This rat's name is Jones. And he is a hero. All images courtesy of APOPO.

And then there are African giant pouched rats. You won't believe what they can do.

We've known for a while that rats are capable of learning complex tasks, and that they're smart enough to care about each other.

I can actually vouch for their intellect firsthand. I had a major rat problem in my house a number of years back, and the rats were frighteningly good at getting out of and evading traps. (While I appreciated their intelligence, that doesn't mean I wanted them nesting in my bed.)

But the folks over at APOPO, an organization headquartered in Tanzania, have found a way to put those smarts to really good use.

The rats they train aren't just navigating mazes. They're saving lives.

Rats can sniff out land mines. I repeat. Rats can sniff out land mines!

The rats are tethered to little leashes to keep them on track, and they cover a TON of ground this way.

How's that for a daily dose of awesome?

See, dozens of countries around the world are affected by a deadly problem known as "land mine contamination," meaning they have tons of leftover explosives from conflicts past and present scattered across the landscape.

The usual process of clearing these mines is painfully slow and highly dangerous.

Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times writes, "Typically, men in body armor walk in precise rows holding metal detectors in front of them. Whenever they come across metal, they stop and painstakingly brush away the soil until they see what it is."

Metal detectors? That's amateur hour.

That sounds ... tedious. And like it's a pretty good way to get yourself blown up.

The rats, who are too light to set off the mines, are able to quickly sniff out the explosives and then paw at the ground when they detect something. From there, the mines can be safely cleared.

APOPO says a team of rats takes about 20 minutes to sweep the same area that would take a human team about four days. Even better? The rats can sometimes be more accurate because they aren't distracted by scrap metal, according to the organization.

They also look pretty dang adorable on those little leashes.

But that's not all! Rats can also detect tuberculosis with a quick wiggle of their nose.

High-five!

TB, a highly contagious and potentially fatal lung infection, is a huge problem in certain counties. The disease was actually declared a national emergency in Mozambique a few years back.

Doctors in these areas have been desperate for a faster, more accurate way to diagnose patients.

Time to call in the rats.

Here's how it works: TB clinics collect sputum samples (basically, saliva and phlegm) from suspected patients and do an initial check. According to APOPO, doctors are only able to identify about half of the samples correctly this way.

The samples are then put in front of a team of trained rats that are able to double check large amounts of them with lightning speed, identifying thousands of missed positives in the process.

Rats are gross all right — grossly underappreciated.

D'awww.

We've gotta get over this idea that rats are yucky. And I'll be the first to admit that I've let my ... complicated history with rats color my better judgment for years.

Well no more.

Rats have earned my respect. And while I'd appreciate a comfortable distance between them and the food in my pantry, if sharing the occasional meal with them is the price I need to pay for the work they're doing, so be it.

They've earned it.

If you feel the same, you can start by "adopting" your own APOPO HEROrat to help pay for its intensive training.

Check out the video below to learn even more about why it's time to "Rethink Rats."

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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Image by 5540867 from Pixabay

Figuring out what to do for a mom on Mother's Day can be a tricky thing. There's the standard flowers or candy, of course, and taking her out to a nice brunch is a fairly universal winner. But what do moms really want?

Speaking from experience—my kids range from age 12 to 20—a lot depends on the stage of motherhood. What I wanted when my kids were little is different than what I want now, and I'm sure when my kids are grown and gone I'll want something different again.

We asked our readers to share what they want for Mother's Day, and while the answers were varied, there were some common themes that emerged.

Moms of young kids want a break.

When your kids are little, motherhood is relentless. Precious and adorable, yes. Wonderful and rewarding, absolutely. But it's a LOT. And it's a lot all the fricking time.

Most moms I know would love the gift of alone time, either away at a hotel or Airbnb or in their own home with no one else around. Time alone is a priceless commodity at this stage, especially if it comes with someone else taking care of cleaning, making sure the kids are fed and safe and occupied, doing the laundry, etc.

This is especially true after more than a year of pandemic living, where we moms have spent more time than usual at home with our offspring. While in some ways that's been great, again, it's a lot.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

Keep Reading Show less