About a week ago I was watching a local public affairs show, one of those panel discussions, the topic of which was the burgeoning deer population, a recurring problem here in Northeast Ohio for the past 15 years or so. It seems Bambi and his buddies are once again popping up in the suburbs, and causing auto accidents by not properly following traffic signs or looking both ways when they cross the street. Some on the panel felt it might be necessary to cull the herd (if you're not sure what the word "cull" means, well, there's another word that sounds almost like it.) The host of this discussion was reminded of a previous public affairs show dedicated to this same topic (I told you it was a recurring problem), in which one of the guests referred to deer as "rats".
Rats? Deer are rats? How so? The host went on to explain that the guest had had problems with deer wandering in his yard and eating his shrubbery, and vegetables from his garden. That doesn't exactly sound like something a rat would do, but I got the overall point. Deer are now pests, vermin, and like rats are feeding off of, and taking full advantage of, human labor, human achievement, human civilization. Like vermin everywhere, deer want to enter human society without first having the common decency to domesticate themselves.
The deer comment made me realize that either rats have a big tent philosophy, or humans have a big tent philosophy on rats behalf. Whichever it is, here are some other candidates for rathood:
Crows. I'm sure farmers throughout history have regarded these creatures as even more of a nuisance than actual rats. Rats don't concern themselves with the corn harvest. There are no such things as scarerats. The odd thing about crows is they're not always confined to rural settings. I once saw a flock of crows in the parking lot of a 7/11, divvying up what looked like a Three Musketeers wrapper. If a cornfield's not nearby, then make do with the high fructose corn syrup they put in candy bars, and everything else, these days.
Pigeons . Another feathered flying rat. Well, hold on, some people take great pleasure in feeding pigeons. You never see anyone feeding rats. But pigeons can be a nuisance nonetheless. Especially for those charged with keeping our nations' monuments nice and spiffy. A hoard of rats can run up and down and in and around a Civil War hero's statue and not leave nearly as much mess as one incontinent pigeon flying overhead.
Canadian geese. This species of rat may be unique to Ohio, and, of course, Canada. They were also a fixture in my apartment complex for a couple of months. Signs went up everywhere warning us tenants not to feed them. To my knowledge, no one ever did. Why would we when whatever they ate soon became green spots on the sidewalk and parking lot that you had to tiptoe around? But the geese are no more. The apartment complex hired somebody to "get rid" of them. I'm not sure who, but I swear I saw some old guy on the grounds with cotton in his mouth mumbling about offers you can't refuse right before the geese "disappeared".
Squirrels. I know some of you will balk at this one. What's wrong with squirrels? All they do is collect acorns, and acorns come from God, not man. True enough, but that storm gutter where the squirrel stores his acorns for the winter came from the Home Depot three blocks away.
Raccoons. I'll admit a raccoon can look pretty cute when he lifts his head up to look at you. Of course, when he looks up and out of that garbage can you were planning to carry to the curb, you have to then wonder if corrugated steel transmits rabies.
Bats. Ever see a bat with its' wings folded in? Looks a little like a gerbil or hamster or some other cute, furry little animal you might see in a pet store. But then, FLAPAPAPAP, suddenly it's ten times bigger, circling the upper reaches of your living room, and taking the occasional dive toward your head.
Skunks. These just may be the most terrifying rats of them all. A whiff from one of these beasts through an open window has been known to send more than one suburban home owner scurrying down the basement stairs and under the pool table, where, shaking like a battery operated sex toy, he or she yells out, "Do whatever you want to the family dog, just please leave me alone!
Why, oh, why, must humankind be plagued with all these different varieties of rats?! Why can't all the crows, pigeons, Canadian geese, squirrels, raccoons, bats, skunks, and now deer just leave us be?!
Actually, they once did. Before the Industrial Revolution, the Renaissance, Christ, the glory that was Rome, the miracle that was Greece, the pyramids of Egypt, none of those animals knew or cared about humans. Then one day prehistoric man climbed down from the trees, promptly chopped down those trees they had just climbed down from, and built a little community of thatched huts. All the animals, including the rats, began running away. But one rat caught a whiff of something. He turned to his friend and said, "Hey, Charlie, is that mastodon stew I smell? Let's check it out!"
As the world's population increases (it's expected to hit 7 billion next year), and everything from adobe dwellings to aluminum-sided ranch houses to high-rise apartments are built on every available spot, expect aardvarks, antelopes, peacocks, quail, pandas, orangutans, kangaroos, penguins, rams, toucans, salamanders, hippopotamuses, koala bears, and duck-billed platypuses to join the long line of animals awaiting honorary membership in the second most dominant species on the planet.
At this point, you may be wondering, does the first most dominant species--we humans--have anything to worry about from the second? Might they try to topple us from our perch?
Relax. No rat, genuine or honorary, has an I.Q. high enough to come up with something like global warming.