Norway rat

A fate worse than death, then death

I’ll not soon forget one of my heroes – Jon Stewart, then host of The Daily Show – giggling while airing a video of a skunk or raccoon with her head stuck in a jar of peanut butter or some such.

Comedy is personal, and one person’s funny is another’s unfunny. I don’t blame a satirical genius for occasionally taking the easy slapstick laugh. And gods know we don’t need to reinforce the stereotype that vegans are humorless.

The stuck skunk came to mind when a friend told me yesterday that her landlord in animal-loving Boulder, Colorado, had hired a “pest control” operator to kill rats who had moved into her house after high waters displaced them from their homes along an irrigation ditch. (For what it’s worth, even among humane wildlife control operators you’ll find a few that are OK killing rats.)

This operator arrived ill equipped for the job. His snap traps were too small for rats, but they were all he had, he said, so he put one out anyway. The next day, the trap was gone. The rat was found days later in a wall some distance away, his head stuck in the trap, having succumbed to death from starvation or thirst or internal injuries after what was likely unspeakable pain and suffering. Everybody fights to live.

To its credit, the City of Boulder on its web page on “safe and effective rat control” encourages the public to provide oversight on operators: “Ensure that you understand the principles for effective trapping and don’t assume that a pest control service will use these techniques unless you require it when you hire them.”

We support the City’s advice on minimizing conflicts with rats, but we are at odds with their quick-to-kill approach. Rats are not to blame for taking advantage of the favorable living conditions provided for them in the human environment. We disparage rats and pigeons, but perhaps we need to be mindful of the adage that those characteristics we most despise in others we also see in ourselves.

Our species makes a mess of things, so is it any wonder we attract animals who thrive in messes? Is it any wonder the skunk gets her head stuck in a recklessly discarded peanut butter jar?

This year Animal Help Now debuted its wildlife conflict service, which enables anyone anywhere to get humane advice (and, in many areas, assistance) for dealing with “nuisance” wildlife. This isn’t about cash. (We’re a nonprofit.) It’s about taking responsibility. It’s about taking care of those most impacted by the havoc we’re wreaking on the world.

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