Main Street Views


Tevere MacFadyen
Oct 25 2016 - 1:25am

I have a rat in my henhouse. More accurately, I guess I ought to say that I have rats in my henhouse, since the singular form of that word should probably not exist. There is no such thing as "a rat." There are only, always and inevitably, "rats."

I've been struggling to keep our rat population under control because my neighbors in the thickly settled streetcar suburb where we live get understandably exercised at the appearance of Rattus norvegicus scampering across their well tended lawns. I have applied numerous poisons, set out a variety of traps, and tried blocking and even flooding their tunnels, all to no great effect. Sometimes there seem to be fewer of them around, sometimes more. The man from the pest control service, when he came to investigate, said simply, "If you want to get rid of your rats, get rid of your chickens." Searching for solutions online I stumbled onto a robust and fascinating archive of rat control literature, almost all of which devolved to the same conclusion: in the battle between humans and rats, rats have the upper hand.

And yet, the more time and effort I invest in my futile campaign of eradication the more I find myself somewhat grudgingly admiring my adversary. Rats are survivors. They are marvels of adaptability. They are flexible, responsive, relentlessly entrepreneurial – all traits we profess to admire in humans. So why do we hate them so? Even the great E.B. White, champion anthropomorphizer and equal-opportunity animal lover, made Templeton, the barn rat in Charlotte's Web, an object of affectionate scorn. (Templeton assisted Wilbur and Charlotte only if compensated. His motto: "Never hurry and never worry.")

I wonder, in this time of profound environmental uncertainty, if we don't need to reconsider our attitude about so-called invasive species. I'm reminded of the gardener's truism that a weed is any plant growing somewhere you don't want it. Maybe it's time to stop fighting and figure out how to get along. Maybe we need to be more like rats.