Rat silhouettes. Muy popular for Halloween. You can buy templates from Martha Stewart. For instance, wouldn’t the little fellow above be fetching in your bay window? Just look at those tickle-y whiskers! My, what sweet paws! It’s like Ratatouille! C’est chouette! We’ll always have Paris!
Except…barf. Let’s not. Rats are revolting. (They do have their devotees, though. Search YouTube for rats doing tricks and those will be the hours that you’ll never get back.) To most
normal people, however, rats are not pets. They’re pests, does anyone remember from history class that they carried the fleas that carried the Bubonic Plague that killed off almost half of Europe?
And guess what? Just this week, Orkin, the pest control people, named Baltimore number 9 among the country’s most rat-infested communities. A zoo of rats was also found this week in a house following a fire (they were caged, thank goodness). In June, Baltimore was awarded number three in Animal Planet’s Top 1o Worst Rat Cities in The World. We’re third in the world at something!
Rats in Baltimore are a real nightmare. (Warning, in that link there is a description of a decomposing rat head left on the street. Happy Halloween!) They’re hard to eradicate. According to Baltimore’s Department of Public Works Rat Eradication website, rats “can swim as far as half a mile, and gnaw through cinderblock, wood, aluminum, and lead sheeting.” Flush one down the toilet, and it can survive (they can tread water for thee days), and come up the same pipes it went down, and back into your home. The website warns: they will eat animal waste (!), so clean up after your dog! For Rat Rubout call 311.
They’re scurry-y, toothed, tailed, little horrors, their eyes are glinty and red. Some of them so big they’re shaped like shovels. A so-called “Viking” rat was found in Sweden this spring. The BBC called it “Ratzilla” and the BBC doesn’t usually go all campy like that, but the animal that poor Swedish family caught in an industrial trap is as big and hairy as a honey badger.
And they never travel alone, rats. They’re always in plagues. Yes, plague is the collective noun for them. Also, colony, pack and swarm. Is your skin crawling? No wonder these gnawing rodents are associated with the holiday of extreme haunted houses. They’re trash-dwellers, lurkers, opportunists. They would throw your grandmother under a bus. They would also probably be driving the bus. Research shows city rats are faster, bigger, and quicker witted than their country cousins.
Also, they’re neighborhood-loyal, just like Baltimore’s human residents. “Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health live-captured rats from both the East side and West side of the city and found that, based on their genetic profiles, they were not related. The Jones Falls waterway, which mostly parallels I-83, was apparently enough of a deterrent to prevent one rat population group from mixing it up with the other.” You hear that, Rattus rattus? None of your shim-sham.
Rats arrived in Baltimore hundreds of years ago from from the Olde Worlde, hidden in the cargo-holds of colonial ships. Stupid colonists. They brought those weird hats, too. A pair of brown rats can produce as many as 2,000 descendants in a year so there are literally hundreds of thousands of them in the city. Rodentine pest populations are predicted to climb with climate change.
Which brings this story to B.A.R.F., Baltimore Area Rat Fisherpersons, made famous by a 1995 article in The New York Times about a group of people who got together to catch rats on glue pads, reel them in and beat them to death with bats. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is a video. “Same thing, like with a fish.” “Like a bass tournament.” Here is Chuck Ochlech, the Rat Fishing tournament director, at the Stoop Storytelling series telling the story of his now infamous idea of rat fishing, Baltimore’s gift to the world: fun, fellowship, and pest control.
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