“Rats. They fought the dogs, and killed the cats, and bit the babies in their cradles; ate the cheeses out of the vats, and licked the soup from the cooks own ladles – “.

The above is from an epic poem, “the Pied Piper of Hamelin”, written by Robert Browning. It is about an event alleged to have happened some 500 years ago in the city of Hamelin in what is now Germany.  The story is that Hamelin became so over-run with rats that the city fathers put out a call for someone to clear them all out.  A strangely dressed fellow with a pipe turned up.  He was dubbed “the Pied Piper of Hamlin” (no, Willy, he was not drunk, “pied’ refers to his clothing being a mix of bright colours, same idea as a ‘piebald’ horse).  He offered to remove all the rats for a large fixed sum.

The city fathers agreed, thinking he could never actually do that. The piper paraded up and down all the streets piping a tune which was irresistible to rats, and soon amassed a great swarm of rats following him as he danced along, right into the river where they all drowned.  But the city fathers reneged on the deal, saying it was much too easy and he had not earned all that gold.  So he began marching up and down the streets playing a tune irresistible to kids, and soon amassed a great crowd of kids.  I will not tell you how it ends, it is a great poem and I do not want to spoil it for you.

My point is that there are many species which flourish in our cities. Mice, shrews, cockroaches, bedbugs, pigeons, squirrels, for example.  Racoons are very successful urbanites, and urban foxes and coyotes have become common.  In addition, many domestic critters flourish on their own, feral cats, dogs, rabbits; can become a nuisance (‘feral’ means descended from domestic animals which have gone wild).  But the hands-down champions of urban life are rats.  It has been said that when we humans manage to exterminate ourselves, rats will take over the cities entirely.  They are a huge problem almost everywhere, not just in Hamelin.

They hitchhike on ships and trains, and one of life’s mysteries is why we do not have them in Dryden.  It is not the climate; the flour mill at Keewatin was so infested with rats that some thought its burning down was a blessing.  And there are no rats in Alberta; they exterminated all their rats many years ago, and the ‘rat wall’ on their boundaries would make Donald Trump proud.  Rats are nocturnal, very secretive; the rule Alberta uses is that if you see a rat, there are at least a hundred nearby.

What brings this to mind is the recent appeal for support to ‘rescue’ some six hundred rats which escaped their owner. Clearly not pets (nobody has 600 pets), probably gone feral, and every bit as much a varmint as their wild cousins.  On top of the recent appeal to ‘rescue’ feral rabbits in another city, this begs the question, have we as a society gone mad?

To be clear, I get and support the ‘pet rescue’ idea.  Over the years our farm on Kellar Road was the recipient of many cats, dogs, and assorted critters (including a pair of half-grown tame rats!), all pets dropped off to live in the country by city folk who no longer wanted them.  They didn’t generally last long, just helped feed the pack of wolves hanging around hoping to poach a sheep from our flock. Providing an ‘adoption service’ for these unfortunate unwanted pets is a sign we are civilized. But extending this ethic to ‘rescuing’ wild critters gone urban, or domestic critters gone feral, is just plain silly.

Just another Contrarian opinion.

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