Would Miss Manners swear if she saw a rat?

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jun 29, 2016 in Rat News | Subscribe

Rats! There is no Miss Manners way to explain away a rat that scampers — not once, but twice — across your deck where friends sit sipping a perfectly chilled rose.

My response was unprintable as I all but leapt up on the chair. And, yes, I’m aware that the rat was probably more frightened than I was startled/horrified.

Even if I’d had the wit to consult the etiquette expert — I do, after all, live within scampering distance of the water — Miss Manners had little to offer.

Among the archives, the only gentle advice I could find was to a reader who asked whether it’s OK to answer the door with one of her pet rats on her shoulder, if someone arrives unexpectedly.

Miss Manners didn’t disapprove, which shows how little I know about etiquette. In that perfect world, the bigger gaffe apparently is arriving unexpectedly.

Fortunately, my invited guests were completely nonplussed.

They’d had bigger animal problems including a bear that Steven had literally convinced out of the garage by waving his hands and saying, “Shoo, shoo!”

“Rats are just squirrels with bad PR,” he opined as he sanguinely kept on sipping.

History is most certainly against rats. There was the matter of the Black Death that wiped out a third of humanity between 1340 and 1400.

It wasn’t the rats per se that carried the bubonic plague. It was the fleas freeloading on the rats. Although recently, a study concluded that it wasn’t rats at all. It’s Asian gerbils that deserved the blame.

Still preferring to base my prejudice on science rather than history, or even the rats’ garbage-eating, sewer-dwelling ways, I contacted the Vancouver Rat Project.

Its researchers have found more than enough to justify the call to an exterminator and yesterday’s placement of even more big, black traps at the perimeter of our building.

According to the Rat Project’s lead researcher Chelsea Himsworth, a veterinarian and associate professor at UBC, rats’ guts are “mixing bowls” where microbes trade genes to create even worse strains of drug-resistant diseases.

In rats collected in downtown east-side alleys, researchers found E. coli, the superbug MRSA and leptospirosis, a fever that’s resulted in a significant number of deaths around the world.

Unsurprisingly, the researchers concluded that none of this can be good for humans who come into contact with them. But Reka Gustafson, Vancouver Coastal Health’s medical officer, demurred saying there’s no established link between what rats carry and what diseases have been found in humans here.

Of course, no one has actually gone looking for that link, although it’s on the Rat Project’s to-do list along with a rat census and a rat policy for the city. Kaylee Byers, a doctoral student working on the Rat Project, figures that’s enough for “several PhDs worth of research work.”

Without a citywide policy aimed at limiting the number of rats, it’s left to individuals and private exterminators to do what they can.

But given their iron guts’ capacity to mix up ever more toxic brews, it’s unsurprising that rats can become resistant to poison. The anticoagulant, Warfarin, for example, is no longer effective.

Even getting rats into a trap set with poison can be problematic, says Byers. Rats distrust new things and avoid them. You know, new things like the traps that the exterminator was busily putting down as I talked to Byers.

She says rats are also smart enough to be able to pass on to their friends and kids stuff like, ‘I’m not feeling so well so maybe you shouldn’t eat what’s in that black box.’

So, newer poisons are slow-acting, taking anywhere from three to five days to kill. Dying rats can’t be definitive about which ‘rat restaurants’ to avoid.

“It’s really a kind of arms race,” says Byers.

Anecdotally, it seems it’s a race that we’re losing in Vancouver. But who really knows.

That said, it seems only fair — and as a hedge against a potential deluge of hateful mail from pet rat owners — to enumerate a few of rats’ good qualities.

Some are able to sniff out tuberculosis even before the traditional testing produces a positive. Giant Gambian pouched rats from sub-Saharan Africa are being used in both Mozambique and Cambodia to sniff out land mines.

YouTube has videos of rats jumping through hoops and videos that teach you how to train your rats to jump through hoops.

It’s all kind of adorable . . . except that they’re rats.



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