“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” wrote Gandhi, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” What, I wonder, would Gandhi make of Baltimore’s “Rat Rub Out Program,” with its so-called “rat abatement stations” and its logo of an evil-looking rat with a red line through it? We are constantly being informed that Baltimore has a serious “rat problem,” and that rats are a major health risk, a source of disease, contamination, and so forth. “Rat Rub Out Trucks” cruise the streets of Baltimore, boasting of their murderous crusade. Dismissed as vermin, rats are being systematically massacred by city officials in the name of “public hygiene.” Does anyone care?
Even if we all agree that rats are a problem, do they really need to suffer an agonizing death from slow acting poisons? And does the city really need to brag about this inhumane violence? While it may be true that rats are connected to the spread of disease (though not the plague, which was carried by fleas nestling in the rats’ fur), they are actually much cleaner than most human beings. Rats groom themselves constantly and wash their faces with water whenever they get the opportunity. They are gentle, intelligent creatures that will not attack unless provoked, and generally prefer to steer clear of human beings and go on living their lives in private, and at night. As this article from PETA explains, it is possible to live in harmony
with rats, and to solve rat “problems” without undue cruelty.
In China, the Rat is respected and considered a courageous and enterprising creature. Those born in the Year of the Rat are honored, and noted for their charm and attraction. Like rats, such people work hard to achieve their goals and acquire possessions. If we all counted ourselves blessed every time we came across a rat, the rat problem would be solved overnight, and Baltimore—at least, according to Gandhi’s criteria—would become a leading center of moral progress.