Though much quoted and imitated, Jimmy Cagney never said “You dirty rats.” He did say “…you dirty yellow-bellied rat…” in the 1932 film “Taxi”, but I digress, as the point is not the correctness of Cagney’s quote, but that rats truly are, um, dirty filled with viruses, pathogens, fleas and ticks.

You live here, you’ve seen a rat. If you haven’t seen one, you’re not looking close enough. Sewers. Subways. Streets. Sidewalks. Tree notches. Large swaths of greenery and bushes. They’re there. Like the huge one a friend of mine who, in her kindness and naivety, once shared a tuna fish sandwich with in full daylight at the entrance to Central Park near The Plaza Hotel. She thought it was a cat until it turned around and she saw the long pink tail. She also said it was very well behaved. Maybe it was the quality of the neighborhood.

New York City is indeed the place millions of rats call home. A recent study by a Ph.D candidate in the statistics department at Columbia University concluded there are no more than two million rats to 8 million humans. Compare that to Paris which has the reverse statistic of 8 million rats to 2 million humans which can really destroy the romantic vision of strolling hand-in-hand along the Seine.

Rats don’t live long, but they live large. They can have a new litter every few months. Squeeze through a gap the size of a quarter. Tread water for 3 days. Leap about 4 feet and survive a five-story fall. The rats we see in the City are brown Norway rats. We used to have black, or ship rats, but in a rodent version of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (“Two men enter; one man leaves”), the brown rats trapped and killed them. Which gives us pause for thought that rats have been better at rat extermination than humans are.

Named one of the “Top 10 Worst Rat Cities in the World” by the TV station Animal Planet, New York is in good company along with Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, New Orleans, London and Paris. What all the cities have in common are older infrastructures and buildings and population density. Sanitation also plays a big role in attracting or controlling rats.

Regardless of the difficulty of eradicating rats from the city, numerous mayors have made the noble and, to date, futile attempt to do so. We say futile because rats have been here since Colonial times and have shown no signs of leaving in the ensuing 400 years.

Last year, Mayor de Blasio targeted the rodents with $2.9 million in rat control money in the city budget. He joins other recent mayors including Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg in the fight against rats. Hope may spring eternal, but so far, the rats have lost some battles, but are still winning the war.

“There have been 109 mayors of New York and, it seems, nearly as many mayoral plans to snuff out the scourge. Their collective record is approximately 0-108,” said an article in The New York Times when Mayor de Blasio announced his rat attack plan. With luck, planning and commitment, perhaps the record will be 1-108.

P.S. Lest you were wondering about the popularity of this topic, there is a book entitled “Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants” by Robert Sullivan. It was a New York Times bestseller.

Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services