Are rats really so bad? – Consumer News

on Oct31

30 October 2017 | 6:08 pm

A few winters ago, one of our elderly dogs had a wee-hours bathroom emergency. Before the two of us headed outside, I switched on the porch light and opened the front door. Through the storm door I saw a rat heading down our front walkway, toward the gate. Instead of ducking under the gate and leaving the yard, the creature turned around, headed toward the front door, and stopped on our welcome mat. We were about a foot apart, with only the glass of the storm door separating our faces. I looked at it. It looked at me, an intent gaze of a few seconds. Then the rat turned tail, ran down the walkway and out of the yard.

I am not sure how the rat felt about our close encounter. For me, it was a moment of Zen. Rats, I realized, are just animals that humans have been socialized to revile. Our welcome-mat rat reminded me of my childhood hamsters, complete with button-cute eyes and twitching whiskers. Since that moment, I don’t mind rats at all.

Socialization defines so many human-animal relationships. Cats and dogs are for pets. Cows and pigs and chickens and lambs are for dinner. Hamsters and gerbils and guinea pigs are for classrooms. Rats and mice (and dogs and rabbits and kittens) are for labs. Rats, among the planet’s most intelligent and resilient creatures, are vilified to what I think is sometimes a goofy extent.

Consider Logan Square’s “rat tree,” which the city cut down after residents complained that rats were nesting in it. Perhaps they were. But the solution was a nuclear fly-swatter. The neighborhood lost a healthy tree, and that tree’s resident squirrels and birds lost a home. The rats most likely are now in comfortable new digs elsewhere.

Related: To solve a rat problem, send in the feral cats

Here’s why rats should be scary: They indicate people problems, a big one of which is garbage. I moved to Bucktown from Edgewater 15 years ago and the first week in the new neighborhood, I saw five rats, more than I’d seen my entire life in this city. A few more weeks and I realized that if I were a rat, I’d live in Bucktown, too. The streets, sidewalks and alleys are a feast of moldering dog poop, bags of half-eaten McDonald’s, boxes of leftover pizza (set out, oh so thoughtfully, for homeless people), and my favorite—the piles of human puke that pepper Milwaukee Avenue on weekend mornings. If people see rats in the daylight, it’s not a sign of too many rats. It’s a sign of too much garbage.

Are rats Public Health Enemy No. 1? No. They do carry leptospirosis, an infection that can become epidemic, and rat-bite fever is dangerous. But both are also very rare. Cat and dog bites account for far more ER visits than anything caused by rats, and yes, that’s partly because humans have closer contact with those animals. Still, rats aren’t sending people to the emergency room in droves, and the city is spending $10 million a year on “abatement,” including killing them and feeding them a potion to render them sterile. That last one makes sense, as a single pair of rats can generate 2,000 rat relatives in a year.

With that, I issue two pleas. First, try your own “abatement” by picking up garbage, dog poop and other popular menu items on the rat buffet. Second, try to see rats for the intelligent, opportunistic creatures they are.

I leave you with this, written by my animal-loving mother:

I don’t understand

What I’ve done so wrong

That makes people hate me

And say I don’t belong.

The very sight of me

Causes cries of dismay

While all I want to do

Is scamper around and play.

My numbers are many

I will attest to that

But no one understands me

Just because I am a rat.



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