As you probably heard this week, the groundhog saw his shadow, which according to legend means six more weeks of winter.
Those of us living in Southern California, where spring is beginning to bloom, may not care so much. But for people, like my son, living in New England where temperatures dipped to single digits last week, this is not good news.
Luckily for them, it turns out that Punxsutawney Phil only gets it right about 40% of the time. Meaning, the groundhog is more often wrong than right. Because let’s face it, what possible connection could there be between a groundhog’s shadow and the weather?
Still, Groundhog Day is a fun tradition, and it gives a little celebrity to an order of animals that can use some good PR: the rodent.
While predicting the weather may not be in the rodents’ skill set, rodents have many redeeming qualities, and some are incredibly talented.
Magawa, a famous rodent responsible for saving countless lives in Cambodia, was memorialized in international news last month.
An African giant pouched rat trained to detect land mines, Magawa detected more than 100 unexploded land mines during his lifesaving career. His work was critical, as land mines left from decades of conflict in Cambodia have caused tens of thousands of casualties.
The HeroRAT initiative, a nonprofit program that works across Southeast Asia and Africa —training rats to detect land mines and tuberculosis — described Magawa as the most successful participant in the program. Magawa was honored with a gold medal in 2020 by a British charity that recognizes civilian animals who have shown true bravery and exceptional devotion to duty.
In the United States, our animal heroes tend to be canines, such as the rescue dogs who helped save lives when the Twin Towers collapsed, and everyday heroes, like guide dogs for the blind.
Magawa is a reminder of the intelligence of all types of animals, including rodents, and how they enrich our human experience.
Rodents are an important part of our ecosystem, and many rodents, like hamsters, guinea pigs, mice and yes, even rats, provide companionship as pets.
At Pasadena Humane, we take in many “critters” in need of loving homes. In February, we are promoting guinea pigs in time for Valentine’s Day with our “Cu-pig” adoption event on February 12.
Guinea pigs are docile pets, great with children, have lots of personality, and “pop” when they are excited, repeatedly jumping up and down. “Popcorning” is a behavior unique to guinea pigs and lots of fun to watch.
For more information on Pasadena Humane’s guinea pig adoption event, please visit pasadenahumane.org. Adoptions will be available for $5, with housing included. This event is by appointment only. Appointments will be released at 10 a.m. February 9.
As for groundhogs, they may not have potential as pets or weather forecasters, but they make great architects. Their underground burrows can stretch from eight to 66 feet long and include multiple “rooms” with different purposes, including a bedroom, nursery and bathroom. Those burrows help aerate the soil. And who knew, groundhogs are great at whistling, too.
So, the next time you think of “rodent” or “rat” as a bad word, please take a moment to remember Magawa and appreciate the wonder of our animal kingdom.
Dia DuVernet is president and CEO of Pasadena Humane.
This blog post originally appeared as a column in the Pasadena Star-News on February 4, 2022.