New York City declares war on rats

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jun 12, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

Some things are a given in New York City:

Rats in subways. Parking tickets. Rats in parks. Snowstorms. Rats on dark sidewalks. Noisy neighbors.

Did we mention rats?

By some estimates, there are more rats than humans in this city of 8.4 million, although it’s impossible to know for sure. One thing is certain: Most New Yorkers loathe rats, and the city this year is budgeting $611,000 for a new program targeting “rat reservoirs,” where the rodents congregate, in hopes of diminishing their numbers.

“This is about more than just aesthetics,” said City Councilman Mark Levine, describing the problem as “epidemic” on some streets in his district of Upper Manhattan.

“We’ve had rats who are going into cars and eating out electrical cables. We have rats that are entering homes,” Levine said at a public hearing this month, in which city health officials announced the additional anti-rat efforts.

With city officials striving to present the best image of New York to visitors — and with social media making every public rat sighting a potential embarrassment — rat-abatement efforts have increased.

Transit officials have tried a rat-sterilization program in the subways, and an online map created by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene enables people to search neighborhoods, streets and even specific addresses for rat issues.

The department also offers courses at its Rodent Academy that are geared toward building superintendents, homeowners and others interested in learning how to manage the rats in their lives.

Health experts say the brown Norway rats that thrive in New York generally do not pose a threat to humans, but that doesn’t stop people from freaking out when a fine example of Rattus norvegicus crosses their path.

A video taken last month showed subway riders wailing in distress and clambering atop seats as a rat took the A train traveling beneath the East River.

“Rat on the train!” someone hollered, but by then, the doors were closing. They didn’t open again for more than 2 minutes and 30 seconds, the time it took for the train to reach the next stop. A man in a suit leaped skyward, as if he were skipping rope, as the rat scurried down the center aisle.

A group called Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society — or R.A.T.S. — regularly prowls some of the city’s rattiest areas, using their dogs to chase down and kill the rodents. It’s as much a chance to let their dogs exercise their hunting skills as to help alleviate the city’s rat issue, say participants, who post photographs of their forays on the group’s Facebook page.

Still, rats have their defenders. They include Debbie “The Rat Lady” Ducommun, of Chico, Calif., who heads the Rat Fan Club. Ducommun believes one reason rats unnerve people is because they like the same things humans like.

“We really hate the idea that rats want to basically eat the things we eat and get into our homes,” said Ducommun, who has 23 pet rats. “There aren’t too many wild animals that really want to come into our homes.”

Ducommun said domesticated rats make great pets. “They learn their names. You can teach them to do tricks,” she said. “They’re very social. If they’re raised around people, they form bonds and they want to come out and be with you.”

The feeling isn’t mutual.

Mary T. Bassett, the city health commissioner, indicated that the latest anti-rat effort is in keeping with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vow to pay more heed to the problems of poor and working-class New Yorkers.

“Nobody wants rats in their community,” Bassett said. The $611,000 program is described as a pilot that will focus on areas of Manhattan and Bronx deemed especially ratty and that will target the burrows where rats make their homes.

This comes on top of the long-running “rat indexing” program, which involves surveying communities for evidence of rats and pressuring property owners to deal with their rats.

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