*Actual Jimmy Cagney quote from Angels with Dirty Faces
Everyone who follows the news knows that New York City has a rat problem. No, I’m not casting aspersions on their politicians—fit targets though they may be. Nor am I mocking the pretenses and hypocrisies of the leisure and luxury classes of NYC. At least not today.
I’m talking about real rats, i.e., Rodentia Rattus Norvegicus, also known as “Brown Rats.” Though how Norwegian Rats became Brown is a mystery. One might have expected White Rats to be associated with Norway. But maybe that would have been profiling.
There are about 2 million of these rats in New York City. They are divided by DNA distinctions between (I am NOT making this up) Uptown Rats and Downtown Rats. (Cue Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl) According to researchers, the dividing line is at or around 59th Street.
Some NYC rats have become famous. The Pizza Rat has been viewed online over 12 million times! This celebrated rat is shown dragging a pizza slice down the stairs leading to the subway, there to be consumed at his or her leisure. I have to admit that the Pizza Rat showed admirable initiative in picking up his or her own takeout and not using a delivery service. These rats may be dirty, but they certainly aren’t lazy. Nor are they starving. Some weigh in at over 2 pounds.
The rats, however, do not enhance the city’s allure for tourists, and even hardened native New Yorkers would just as soon get rid of them. New York City is no Hamlet of Hamlin, and there is no Pied Piper to lure the rats away with entrancing melodies. (Remember the story. He did rid Hamlin of the rats but also took 130 children away—never to be seen again). Most New Yorkers want the rats gone but not the children—though there may be some overlap. To this end, the new Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, has appointed a “Rat Czar.” Lots of Russian Czars were rats, but Kathleen Corradi is the first Rat Czar.
The Czarina will be paid $155,000 annually. This is not too much when you consider that under former Mayor DeBlasio, there was a $30,000,000 annual budget to exterminate rats. This was $30 million, apparently not well spent. While one might question the cost, I did not anticipate people questioning the cause. Yet questioned it; some did.
A spokeswoman for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) complained bitterly and passionately that the rats weren’t the problem. It was the people. This is both true and logical. If there were no people, there would be no impulse to slaughter the rats. She went on to charge (again correctly) that it’s the humans who leave the food in the streets. She might have accused us of being pigs, but that would have denigrated actual (Sus Linnaeus Domestica) pigs. She went on to suggest that instead of poisoning the rats, we humans should use birth control and cut down our population. Fewer people, less trash. Less trash, fewer rats. QED Naturally, fewer people and less trash would result in many rats competing openly and fiercely, fighting over a dwindling food supply and starving to death. This would not really seem to adhere to PETA principles. Killing rats quickly versus starving them over time is indeed a moral quandary.
I’m not sure PETA thought this through. Rats are indeed living creatures. They do feel pain and have desires—for food, shelter, and sex—much as we do. They also carry diseases, again, much as we do. They spread, to name only a few dread diseases, Hantavirus, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome, Lassa Fever, Leptospirosis, Lujo Hemorrhagic Fever, Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (LCM), and Monkeypox.
At this moment, most scientists are letting the rats off the hook on the charge of spreading the Bubonic and Pneumonic Plagues. Rats may have brought the infections to humans (See Bats and Covid), but humans spread it. The rats, therefore, along with bats, get credit or blame for helping diseases jump to humans. Then we do the hard work of growing an outbreak into an epidemic and an epidemic into a pandemic. Nonetheless, rats do spread diseases, and while humans would do well to take better care of food waste, trash, and population growth, just letting rats follow their nature to their own Malthusian catastrophe of outbreeding their food supply and starving seems bad for both the rats and the people.
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