Rats!

Last week, as I was returning home from running errands, I looked up at my back porch and froze. There, in midday, right by my door, was a rat.

For a fraction of a second, we looked at each other. What was it that passed between us? Not hate. Not universal love and understanding. Just surprise. I yelped, and the rat tripped over itself, rolled down a couple of steps, leapt from the stairs, and disappeared.

It was the first live rat I had ever seen in Cambridge. They are a growing problem in the area—but so is their removal. Poison doesn’t just kill the rat population: last April, for example, a well-known red-tailed hawk who had nested in the area for years died after eating a poisoned rat.

This past week, a timely brochure from the Cambridge Public Works arrived in the mail: ¨Preventing Rats on Your Property.¨ The advice is harsh: ¨Starve them. Wipe them out.¨

I can’t claim to be pro-rat, but it would take a serious situation to get me to actively track and kill a rat, especially a rat that shares, at least part-time, my property and environs, since preference for a location, at the very least, seems to be a neighborly thing we have in common.

If only a more friendly feeling could develop between us.

In the 1970’s B-movie ¨Ben,¨ a little boy named Danny bonds with a rat (Ben) who happens to be the leader of a destructive swarm.

¨They’re putting poison underneath all the houses and killing all the rats!¨ Danny complains to his sister.

¨Rats are dangerous,¨ she says.

Danny pauses. ¨Some rats are okay.¨

The rats end up killing several people. In response, the police torch the rat colony (with flame throwers).

But miraculously—predictably?—inevitably?—Ben makes it out alive: