Better living through rodents…

The late lamented 20th century gave us polio vaccine, the Lava Lamp, Marilyn Manson and the Ford Festiva.

The 21st century, however, is about to give us one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of all time – remote-controlled rats.

I know it sounds like science fiction, but they’re here, they’re real and soon they’ll be bringing us an exciting new world of pointy-tailed convenience. Take my word for it, amigos, radio-controlled rats are going to be bigger than aerosol cheese and Britney Spears combined.

(You can, like, drop your jaw and mutter “Gol…” right about now.)

According to a recent Associated Press report, scientists at the State University of New York recently equipped five rodents with tiny “micro stimulator” backpacks along with receivers and electrodes to tickle the pleasure centers in their brains. Using signals from a laptop computer, researchers were then able to direct the rodents to perform a variety of unratlike tasks from as far as five football fields away.

The wire service reported that the specially-trained rodents were electronically guided through several of different obstacles, including mazes, pipes, ladders, elevated runways and trees.

Remote-controlled rats, scientists believe, might eventually be used for search-and-rescue missions in confined spaces too small to accommodate an enthusiastic St. Bernard or a 350-pound deputy sheriff.

The next time Timmy falls down a well, forget about Lassie. Ratso will get the job done in half the time with a whole lot less barking…

The biggest problem I see with this whole concept is shortsightedness on the part of our rodent researchers.

Sure, electronically-enhanced rats could be a real help in locating injured gymnasts trapped under the overturned wreckage of their trampolines, but these beady-eyed rescuers could be even more useful performing labor-saving tasks in the workaday world.

If rats can find lost hikers in collapsed mine shafts or skateboarders sinking in quicksand, they ought to be great at finding an errant spouse who’s inexplicably disappeared somewhere between the old Dew Drop Inn and Pugley’s Tavern.

In addition, they could prove quite valuable in tracking down your teenage daughter and her no-account boyfriend when they’re supposed to be “studying at the library.”

(And, with technology growing by leaps and bounds, it should only be a matter of time until rescue rats will be able to enunciate the word “Busted!” once they locate their quarry.)

The radio-dispatched vermin could also be assigned to help letter carriers on their appointed rounds. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, Postal Service customers may even be able to avail themselves of Next Day Rodent service or a speedy Rat-O-Gram.

Finally, the presence of remote-controlled rodents in American households will give a new generation of children a fresh excuse for missing school assignments: “The rats ate my homework…”

Originally published May 19, 2002