“Oh look! A rat!” my son yelled, as the brown loaf of fur sauntered in front of us near the Georgetown waterfront
Yes, sauntered. That rodent might as well have had ear buds and skinny jeans on. A complete sense of entitlement took hold as he strolled that sidewalk on a recent Saturday night. No hurry.
“And there are two more!” I said.
And another. Then another.
“You know, they’re actually kind of cute. Let’s take their pictures,” the 9-year-old said. And he began trying to capture the urban beauty of Rattus norvegicus at the trash cans, in flagrante delicto with a tossed burger wrapper. City kids.
Five. Six. Seven.
Eww. Seven is dragging a hot dog through the dirt. Take that, New York pizza rat.
“I think I’m done, Mom.” Shudder.
So we moved away from the garbage buffet to those big steps that go all the way into the Potomac River. We sat and looked at the lights of the Kennedy Center, the moon, the napkin floating in the air right behind our heads.
“The rats are running with the napkin behind you, Mom!” my son squealed. And we both jumped up, double-timing it past another quartet of rats negotiating a tossed chow mein box two steps up.
Eight. Nine . . .
Our final tally was 13 rats in less than 20 minutes.
And as far as we could tell, none of them was running for office.
Think we have a rat problem, D.C.?
The Orkin pest control folks say we do. They released their annual rankings of the rattiest cities in America on Monday, and we’re No. 3, behind Chicago and New York.
So see, it’s not just that whole rats and politics thing. That’s too easy.
Although, really, we should be No. 1, given that Chicago has 2.7 million people, New York has 8.6 million and we have Congress.
The D.C. Department of Health said our city of 672,000 is seeing an increase in rat calls this year, following four years of steady rodent decline.
The city got more than 3,000 rat complaints in fiscal year 2015-2016, and the mayor launched a rat-riddance program in April, said Ivan Torres, spokesman for the health agency.
Rat increase in an election year? Could it be that . . . nah. We were going to stay away from cheap political jokes.
It has something to do with the weather, experts say.
“The reason the rats are so bad now, we believe, is because of the warm winters,” said Gerard Brown, program manager of the Rodent and Vector Control Division of the D.C. Department of Health — the rat czar, in one of the city’s recent rat summits.
But wait! What about Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.)? Didn’t he show “those eggheads” that our globe isn’t warming when he brought that snowball into the Senate last year?
Sorry, senator. Nope.
And nope on snow as rat abatement.
Even if there’s snow, without the long, deep freeze of the normal winter cycle, rats will continue to thrive, the rodentologists say.
It’s not just the nation’s capital that’s having a rat problem. Big cities throughout the country are seeing rat infestations grow this year, according to a data analysis of New York, Boston, Chicago and D.C. done by USA Today.
Orkin said calls for service over the past two years jumped by 61 percent in Chicago; 67 percent in Boston; 174 percent in San Francisco; 129 percent in New York City; and 57 percent in D.C.
These cities are stepping up their abatement programs with increased patrols and innovative treatments, including a popular new trick taken straight from stagecraft. Exterminators slip dry ice into rat burrows, and besides looking like a heavy metal show, the melted carbon dioxide naturally asphyxiates sleeping rats, eliminating the need for other poisons.
Last month, after D.C.’s ridiculous rat problem made headlines in the Washingtonian because of the hilarious Yelp reviews for a fake “Dupont Circle Rat Sanctuary,” the city announced an increase in rat patrols, experiments with dry ice and a partnership with the National Park Service, which runs the hundreds of rat sanctuaries — I mean, pocket parks — throughout the city. They’re launching tactical strikes on 40 locations.
Brown, the rat czar, has made it a point as he goes from meeting to meeting in D.C. neighborhoods, listening to complaints, to say that rats aren’t evil incarnate orchestrating a hostile takeover.
“Rats are an indicator of something people are doing wrong,” Brown told one community group last year.
When people leave open trash for them to feast on; unsealed access to warm, indoor places for them to nest in; and open water, they’re giving rodents opportunities to thrive.
In other words, it’s not the rats who are bad. It’s the people who put them in power who are to blame.
Oops, there I go again.