On Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams introduced the city’s first rat czar with the pomp and gravitas of the Vatican anointing a new pope. New York’s thriving rat population has become something of a white whale for Adams, who has been fighting an uphill battle against the rodents since before he even took office, and the czar, a former schoolteacher named Kathleen Corradi, will join him in his zealous campaign. But as he builds his powerful anti-rat army, I’ve started to feel pangs of a sentiment I never thought I would have for the city’s grossest residents: pity.
To be clear, I am all for getting rid of the rats. Over the past few years, owing partly to lockdown shifts in the city’s pest ecosystem and Department of Sanitation budget cuts, they have overtaken the streets of New York. I have dodged them, wrenched them from my dog’s mouth, and heard them scurrying in every park like small disease-carrying ghosts. If I could snap my fingers and disappear all the rats in New York City, I would.
However, their drawn-out demise gives me no pleasure. I do not like seeing, hearing, or thinking about animals dying slow, agonizing deaths — even animals I cross the street to avoid. I recently watched a presumably poisoned rat stagger out of its tree-box hole to thrash around and die right there on the sidewalk for everyone to see. Sorry you had to hear that, but I can’t ignore this feeling any longer. I feel bad for the rats.
Even more upsetting is the device Adams has been using to slay his sworn enemies, which essentially dissolves the rats alive, resulting in a substance a New York Times reporter called a “rat stew.” Ew, but also, really? Is there not a more humane way to swiftly and painlessly end the rats’ lives before melting them into goo?
The final nail in my rat pity coffin was this poster, which has been emblazoned on subway stations and distributed to mailboxes throughout the city. It comes from the Sanitation Department, which is attempting to prevent mountains of garbage from hanging out in the street for days on end, turning every city block into a rodent-infested obstacle course. “Send rats packing!” it says, reminding everyone to put their trash out at the new pickup time. On the poster, a sweet little rat is holding a suitcase, looking lost and forlorn.
According to city employees, the Sanitation commissioner felt that putting a “BIG RAT” on the poster would make it more eye-catching. However, in making the rat BIG, they also made it cute. Instead of channeling Scabby, the terrifying blow-up rat that unions use to shame scabs, they have turned our alleged foe into an adorable Pixar character. Another newspaper ad went so far as to compose a depressing speech bubble from the rat’s POV:
If Adams really can send the rats packing — and given the way his crusade is going, this situation is purely theoretical at this point — where will they go? Does New Jersey offer the same cuisine, real estate, and general quality of life they enjoy here in New York? If you think about it, isn’t it kind of rude to wage war on a species that has, through sheer will and perseverance, won the Darwinian competition for our city’s resources? I’m not saying we should let them stay, but I don’t share Adams’s glee at eviscerating these gross little guys.