• Jennifer Barnick

A Thousand Prayers for the Rats of NYC

New York City Rat

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

It began with this (0:44):

Which led to the discovery of this (0:14):

While strolling through Facebook I stumbled upon an article about Egg McMuffin Rat and how he is rising to fame almost as sharply as the now world-famous Pizza Rat. The article had links to both videos above, and what is immediately felt is the human comments in the background. For Egg McMuffin Rat, it’s the comment, “He deserves it” that strikes the heart, and for Pizza Rat, it’s the comment, “Live your best life.” Somehow one is touched and not repulsed by our rat superstars, and I think part of it comes from us seeing a little bit of ourselves in the rat. Certainly, rats are a foe to man. We spend relentless time trying to get rid of them. However, we have rats in Disney films. We keep them as pets. We also use them as test animals in not only biology but also psychology, as they are so much like us. They compete for girls. They get addicted to drugs. We also see our culture in their culture. We see our hard-scrabble existence reflected in their struggles to survive. We even use the term ‘rat race’ to describe the struggle of making our way through the world. Instead of exterminators, we humans have bosses that fire us, landlords who evict us, and competitors who sabotage us.

Though rats are mostly seen as vermin, there is a lot more to the lowly rat than spreading terror and disease. “Rats are extremely social and affectionate animals. They enjoy the company of other rats, and domestic rats love being with humans too.” (onekindplanet.org) Some other interesting rat facts include the fact that rats will take care of other injured rats, rats get lonely and depressed, and rats even ‘laugh’ when they play. Rats are also very intelligent and can be trained. Not just dogs, but rats can also be superheroes in times of human need. “Giant African rats are trained to detect deadly landmines. They’re larger than pet rats but small enough that they don’t set off the landmines while searching for them.” (17 Facts That Will Make You Love Rats Even More by Kaelin Tully, buzzfeed.com)

Rats and humans are so connected that they, too, are suffering because of Covid-19. Due to the mass closing of restaurants in NYC (and other big cities), rats are facing a crisis of food shortages. Rats had come to depend on restaurants as their main source of food. With the restaurants being closed, they are forced to travel into different territories and fighting wars with other rats. They are killing each other and even resorting to eating their pups. This is extreme behavior for rats as they are very social and live a lot as we do. “Bobby Corrigan, a rodentologist who specializes in urban vermin, told NBC News: ‘A new army of rats comes in, and whichever army has the strongest rats is going to conquer that area. When you’re really, really hungry, you’re not going to act the same—you’re going to act very bad, usually.’” (Starving Rats are Resorting to War and Cannibalism to survive Coronavirus Lockdown by Hannah Sparks, April 13, 2020, nycpost.com) The article goes on to say that cities need to be aware that this rat desperation means rats will be more aggressive and bolder in seeking food sources. NYC and other densely populated areas should be more vigilant on food storage and disposal and amped up exterminations efforts should be employed. There is a worry for the homeless population during the rat wars.

I must admit, while I agree, rats carry disease and are terrifying (we had a rat problem in our first place in Cambridge, MA—there was a lot of shrieking), I can’t help but feel bad for the rats. They are starving and are fighting for survival as countless humans have during times of extreme famine. Then, additionally, they will face mass death in their family clans as aggressive extermination efforts ensue. And I know, I know, we must exterminate these starving, emboldened rats as they carry disease that can harm our human family clans. However, I think of Egg McMuffin Rat and Pizza Rat, and I wonder if they are alive and thinking back in the days before Covid-19 when the streets and subways were packed with people who dropped precious delights and alleys held amazing plate scrapings from restaurant diners. I can’t help but remember that rats are so much like us that we use them in psychology. They even smile—their ears turn pink and droop when they are happy.

I can’t help but hope the rats of NYC receive a thousand prayers.

Jennifer Barnick

Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.”

Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.

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