A Pied Piper for New York

They fought the dogs, and killed the cats,

And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cook’s own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women’s chats,
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.

This verse from a poem written in 1842 by Robert Browning describes the plight of a town called Hamelin. The tale of the rats and what happened to them has been told through the ages in what is a classic children’s story called the Pied Piper of Hamelin. 

The story continues in another version by the famous Brothers Grimm.

Once upon a time, in the year 1284 a mysterious man appeared in Hamelin. He was wearing a coat of many-coloured bright cloth, for which reason he was called the Pied Piper. He claimed to be a rat catcher, and he promised that for a certain sum of money he would rid the city of all mice and rats. The citizens struck a deal, promising him a certain price. The rat catcher then took a small fife from his pocket and began to blow on it. Rats and mice immediately came from every house and gathered around him. When he thought that he had them all he led them to the River Weser where he pulled up his clothes and walked into the water. The animals all followed him, fell in, and drowned.

The tale which originated as medieval folklore, which is believed to be based in fact, (there is really a town called Hamelin in Germany) has been retold in many forms through the ages. And it continues to a somewhat grim ending–when the townspeople are unwilling to pay the piper for his services, he lures their children away by the same means.

Fast forward to 2022. Once again here is a city, no less than New York itself, which is looking for the services of a real life Pied Piper who will entice away the millions of rats that are crawling through the city’s streets and subways.

New York is infested with rats. It is estimated that there is one rat for every four New Yorkers!

Interestingly these rats also arrived in New York just as the thousands of immigrants did over the centuries. New York City rats are of the Norway Rat, or “brown” rat, variety that first arrived in North America sometime around 1776 on boats from Europe with the Germans who arrived in America. They quickly spread across the country. The large rats (7-9 inch body with a 7-9 inch tail) and weighing about 500 grams, have superhuman abilities to squeeze through small openings, falling from great heights without injury, and chewing through pipes and cinder blocks. They are also notoriously difficult to capture and eliminate.

As a result rat infestation is a serious and widespread issue in the New York metro area. Rats have become not only a huge menace but also a health and environmental threat. They devour food supplies and contaminate what they don’t eat with faeces and urine. They carry pathogens that spread a range of harmful viruses and bacteria that cause serious illness. Their gnawing and burrowing can cause damage that can be a problem for residents, property owners, businesses and entire neighbourhoods.

Rats seek out places to live that provide them with everything they need to survive: food, water, shelter, and safe ways for them to get around. Areas around restaurants provided these easily for the rats. But during the Covid lockdown of public eating places, and more work, and eat, from home meant that the garbage accumulation shifted to residential areas, and the rats were quick to follow. The rat issue has exacerbated in residential areas since the Covid lockdown was lifted.

The residents are almost held to ransom by the rat brigands. New York’s Sanitation Department reported a roughly 71% increase in rat complaints since October 2020. There is even a Rat Information Portal on the city government’s website which offers information and tips to battle the menace such as: -Clean up. Garbage and clutter give rats a place to hide. -Rats eat your garbage, so store all garbage in hard plastic rat-resistant containers with tight fitting lids. Provide enough trash containers for all of the occupants of your property. Any exposed garbage will attract rats. -Keep landscaped areas around your property free of tall weeds and trim shrubs that are close to the ground. -Check for cracks or holes in the foundation of your building, sidewalk and under doors and repair them by filling and sealing them.

There is a new epidemic in New York that calls for emergency measures.

Hence the recent post by the New York Mayor Eric Adams inviting candidates for a position of a “citywide director of rodent mitigation,” or “a rat czar.”  “If you have the drive, determination, and killer instinct needed to fight New York City’s relentless rat population — then your dream job awaits.”

The qualifications for the post? “The ideal candidate is highly motivated and somewhat bloodthirsty, determined to look at all solutions from various angles, including improving operational efficiency, data collection, technology innovation, trash management, and wholesale slaughter.”

The role’s more serious qualifications include an ability to “self-manage and conduct rigorous research and outreach,” a “desire to be entrepreneurial with an interest in social impact” and either experience in local government or a background in a “relevant” field.

The city government is also putting in place more stringent measures with respect to garbage disposal. As of April 1 2023, New Yorkers will be fined for putting put their trash on the curb before 8 p.m.; currently the rule allows them to put out the trash at 4 p.m. (The rats will have to wait four extra hours before their sidewalk buffets are open!)

In the meanwhile, it would be most interesting to get a sneak peek into the CVs of the applicants for Rat Czar, and to know who will be the new age Pied Piper of New York!


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