- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

The city, as usual, is making no real progress in its never-ending war with the ever-resilient Norway rat.
It seems every year is the Year of the Rat in Washington.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams is the latest city leader to have declared a war on the vermin, and if history is a guide, his declaration won't be the last.
You don't have to spend very long in certain parts of the city before you run across one of the icky creatures foraging in the vicinity of what amounts to a veritable gourmet feast.
They like what we like: soda pop, hamburgers, fries, pizza, fried chicken and grease. And they aren't real finicky if the stuff happens to be on a sidewalk or in a gutter or has a colony of ants on it. They will eat anything, if necessary even dog droppings and their own young.
Fortunately, in Washington, they don't have to resort to such extreme measures to survive. All they have to do is hang out and wait on Washington to feed them. Unlike dogs, they don't even have to beg or perform a stupid trick to be rewarded.
Winter controls the rat population more efficiently than any program, if the winter months are genuinely harsh. Washington has not really had a rough winter in years, and so, the rat population remains as strong as ever, if not stronger. But who really knows their numbers? It is not as though rats are required to fill out a census form every 10 years.
Otherwise, the rats do not appear to be scurrying for cover after the mayor declared war on them 19 months ago. If anything, they are feeling pretty good, confident and committed to their cause. They prefer to make love, not war, and they are incredibly prolific in this regard. The females can spit out a litter of 10 every three weeks.
Of course, we do the mayor no favors. We are part of the problem. We eat a lot of food. We also throw away a lot of food. We're messy. We let others worry about the trash buildup in the alleys. We put out plastic trash bags on the sidewalks, as if this is intended to discourage our four-legged foes with the razor-sharp teeth from seeking the goodies inside the bags. We fail to close our Dumpsters or secure our trash cans.
We might as well ring a bell and call our buddies to dinner. We might as well set a plate for them at the table.
No, we don't really see it this way. We blame the other guy the landlords, restaurant owners and the like. We also blame the mayor.
No one really likes living with rats, except perhaps animal-rights activists, who have never met a pest-eradication program they couldn't protest. Rats undoubtedly have feelings, too, along with a high number of diseases.
They have their place in history, notably in the 14th century, when they helped spread the Black Death, which wiped out an estimated quarter of the population in Europe and Asia.
We are a little smarter nowadays, but not as smart as we like to think. We can't stop the rat. We can't even contain it. We are, it seems, powerless.
They are living large, and large is an apt word. Or maybe pleasantly plump is the preferred euphemism. Some are said to be the size of cats.
They gorge on our refuse. We scratch our heads.
They come out to play. We try to look the other way.
We stack junk in the alley for them. We wonder how they like their shelter.
We drop a portion of our fast food lunches on park benches.
We ask, "Would you like a little more salt and ketchup with your fries?"
Their quality of life is so high in Washington, we ought to at least provide Tums in case of an upset tummy.
We don't give them the keys to the city. Instead, we give them the run of the place.
So we are where we always are with the Norway rat, in a stalemate with no easy solutions.
We talk tough, impose fines and try to educate the public. We hire experts, study the ways of our adversary and increase the budget of the Bureau of Rodent Control.
We do all that, plus eliminate them with extreme prejudice, and they barely notice.
They just eat, drink and make merry.

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