I attended my first rat class on a Sunday afternoon in January. The snow melted overnight, but by morning it had refrozen into black ice, which made the walk between the 4th Avenue-9th Street stop and the future Morbid Anatomy Museum, located in a vacant, pre-renovation nightclub in industrial Gowanus, extremely terrifying. This probably explains why most of the registered students bailed at the last minute, even after paying $185 for a dead rat, scalpel, access to a box of accessories fit for Barbie and expert instruction.
When I arrived, Katie Innamorato, the teacher, was wearing a polyester wolf jumpsuit with pointy ears, a row of white fangs, and a lolling red fabric tongue. She was arranging the rats on a folding table as if setting up a child’s birthday party. The rats, bright white and all the same size, were “feeders,” or mass-market snake snacks. After the three other students who braved the elements—a bearded deer hunter from upstate, his amulet-necklaced wife, and a teenager in a hoodie whose mom dropped her off with lunch money—were settled in, Katie started instructing: massage some warmth into the rat’s limbs, then place its belly flat against the table, and part its fur along the spine.