Anyone who has stood on a quiet subway platform, walked a dog through a municipal park at dusk or jogged in the moonlight past garbage bags lining a sidewalk knows the city could do better at rat control.
Now city Comptroller Scott Stringer has released an audit showing that New Yorkers are losing ground in the long twilight war against the fleet-footed pests known as rattus norvegicus and their fellow travelers.
The results are not for the squeamish:
We're losing the rat race. Citizen complaints of pest infestations totaled 22,300 in fiscal 2012 -- then jumped to 24,600 the following year. That's unacceptable. We must fight this vermin in the Dumpsters, on the wharves, in the cellars, alleyways and gardens. We must make clear that we -- not them, not their friends -- own this town.
The city doesn't quite get it. When complaints come in. Stringer says, the health department fails nearly a fourth of the time to investigate within the agency's 10-day target. But a leisurely response means the rats win. Studies have found that New York is home to perhaps the largest rat population in the nation. And Rattus norvegicus does not respond to mere expressions of human irritation.
We must clean up stray garbage, lace the shrubs with rat traps and flush out the burrows where the rodents hide.
The health department quarrels with some of Stringer's methods and conclusions.
But here's what we do know about rats: They're "a daily, stomach-turning insult," as Stringer says, "whether they're scurrying over people's feet on sidewalks," or invading homes where children are sleeping.
We also know they're more than a grotesque nuisance. They are notorious carriers of infectious diseases like plague and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
We must do what it takes to beat them back.