Can’t a NYC rat catch a break?

Vermin complaints to the city health department went up last year. Photo Credit: iStock

Why do we hate rats so much?

Vermin complaints to the city health department went up last year.
Vermin complaints to the city health department went up last year. Photo Credit: NYPD

Two teenage girls screeched as a large rat charged down the 59th Street C train platform Friday afternoon, while others quickly scattered. Looking more fearful than any of them, the rat scampered to the end of the platform and disappeared.

The myth that there are as many rats as people in NYC was recently debunked in a study published in the statistical journal Significance. According to the report, there are only about 2 million rats in the city, not 8 million. Feel better?

NYC only ranks fourth (behind Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington) in pest-control company Orkin’s latest “Rattiest Cities” list. Yes, that’s still not good, yes, they carry diseases, and yes, I applaud the city’s recently launched initiative to reduce the rat population in the most vermin-infested neighborhoods.

That said, why do we hate rats so much? Squirrels also carry diseases. So do pigeons. So do we.

The truth? Squirrels are cute, and rats are ugly. That’s why they never catch a break.

This summer, a rat supposedly attacked a journalist on an NYC subway platform. The Huffington Post headline “Giant Rat Attacks Reporter Filming It On NYC Subway Platform” was typical.

But that’s the problem with prejudice. What really happened was the reporter was filming the rat, when it turned and charged toward him. He screamed as the rat dashed between his legs. As far as biting the man? Never happened.

Now put yourself in the rat’s place. What if you were down in the subway and someone started filming you without your permission? Exactly.

All I’m saying is, unlike those teenage girls, let’s not get hysterical every time we see a rat. If rats were really that prone to biting people, the subway system would have shut down years ago. There are much bigger annoyances on the subway. For example, when was the last time you saw a rat saunter down a subway car demanding spare cheese? I rest my case.

The truth is, most of our rats are faithful to the city creed: You leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone. Like us, they’re just trying to survive, setting out on a daily quest for food, shelter and to not be judged on their appearance.

Sounds like real New Yorkers to me.

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at

Mike Vogel