I was heading home the other day & a bicyclist rode by with a very large white rat on his shoulder, the long pink tail hanging down his bare back. Man & rat, heading home together…it was a sweet sight. I got my phone camara ready for a shot at the red light, but that wily guy slithered through the intersection & was gone in a flash…not unfamiliar behavior around these parts.
I’ve recently been engaged in my own private war with rats, so this encounter got me thinking. As you know, I have chickens (well, right now, one hen) & chickens, rats & humans have co-habitated for a long time. A couple of months ago, there was no denying that this one hen was not the one consuming the immense volume of feed & water I was replenishing daily in the coop. That very weekend, fat & happy with their lot & rapidly expanding extended families, those little (no, actually, very large & fat) grey rats started sauntering out in the late afternoon, casually chowing & slurping, 2,3,4,5…”What are those, Grandma?” “Those are rats, honey – looks like they’ve moved into the Live Oak Avenue Coop Resort with all the relatives.”
From past experience, I know I have to have a strategy at Orchard Supply to avoid running into someone I know in the Pest & Poison aisle. Aack!!…are you really going to kill something? It’s appalling: I really do feel bad about it. Even the ants. But not bad enough to abandon my attack plan. Three easy-to-set traps, guaranteed, peanut butter not included. The rat clan really didn’t stand a chance.
Twelve rats, two days, & multiple plastic bags later (replete with surreptitious flinging of bags into a local park dumpster), I breathe a sigh of victory. Hopefully the neighborhood cats can finish off the lingerers.
But then, the white rat appeared, & I thought, rats have a bad rap in our human world, & yes, I’m as guilty as the next guy in line at Orchard. As with other so-called vermin, we assign them dark & sinister motives for the ways they negatively impact the daily rat race of our lives. We hold them responsible for plagues (even though it was really the fleas). We’re disgusted by what we consider to be their innate sneaky & cunning behavior, & of course we all know people who seem to exhibit similar characteristics. The grayer & larger they are, the more intense our aversion…e.g, that HUGE gross rat that startled me by slithering across my blanket as I cut class at Seabright beach during my first year at college was definitely a different species than the white bike-rider one (wasn’t it?); & those tiny little mice getting into the rice, while annoying, are definitely less creepy than their devious rat cousins (aren’t they?).
Don’t worry, I’m not planning to start a Save the Rats club. But, in observing my own reactions & behavior (disgustingly noted above), it seems worth remembering that whatever we may think about them, these rats are just doing their best at living & providing for their families, just like we are, just like other vermin are, just like bunnies & dolphins & dogs & cats & polar bears & ants & chickens are. Some people even have rats as pets! (..& by all accounts, they rival our favored pet varieties in all ways except: people think you’re a deviant if you have one.)
Thankfully, I think I’ve demonstrated my own lack of deviance with the mainstream of public opinion about rats. Still, the image of that startlingly white rat mammal riding on the back of the tanned human mammal…well, I really wish I’d been able to to get that shot to share with you.