The world went on just fine a few days ago. The sun rose and set just the same as any other day. A little heart stopped beating and no one cared and some people would argue that no one should care at all. How should this even deserve to enter your consciousness? This is a story about a much hated specie; moreover, this is a story about giving mercy.
As you might have guessed, the day started with a quick trip to Downtown Vancouver to see what I could find with my trusty camera. I was eagerly anticipating the parting of clouds for some good lighting. The life of a photographer is not all that far from the life of a weather network geek. That little yellow ball showing up on the weather forecast would perk me right up! I was on my way to a spot that I've been trying to photograph for the last 2-3 weeks, but the stars never aligned for that perfect shot. I was hoping this would be the day, but I had no such luck. Instead, I saw a live rat. On any other day, the story probably would have ended there, but this rat was a troubled one.
I knew something was wrong when I saw the rat out in daylight in such a heavily pedestrial area. I may not be a rat rocket scientist, but I do know rats like to lurk around in the dark instead. Perhaps it is the rats' propensity to operate in darkness to thief and destroy prized human possessions, their name earned a special place as an adjutive in the English vocabulary. As I paid more attention to this little hated creature, it was literally running around in circles. It was breathing fast and heavily (or at least what I would normally consider to be fast and heavy). After running around in circles for a while, it fell over. It struggled to get back up. Eventually, it got up. It stayed relatively still for the next little while. It was not a leap to believe that the rat had ingested some rat poison and it was about to die.
I noticed a man in an electric wheelchair to my right, and I looked over to him said without much thinking: "There is a rat there, and I think it's about to die". I had seen the man in the wheelchair on a few different occasions while wandering around, but I never talked to him until today. Gary looked like he was in his late 40's or early 50's. He was a heavier set man, and he was wearing a baseball cap and a rain poncho. Gary didn't appear to have the full function of his hands, but he was able to move his arms. Gary looked at the rat and agreed that it was about to die. He said right away: "It's suffering". As weird as this might sound to people, the rat's pain was very apparent. Gary told me to "go step on its head". I looked at him with a blank look. He said: "It's suffering. Go help him out." It was very clear that it wouldn't survive much longer, but I hesitated as I ran through the act of stepping on the rat's head in my mind. Gary spoke of how much pain the rat must be feeling, and moved his electric wheelchair forward. He asked me to "guide him" towards the rat. There we were, in a populous downtown area, as I said to him "Move the other way... move a little towards me.... now if you just keep going straight you would get it." I think you get the idea of what happens next.
While most people wouldn't care about a suffering rat, Gary was a different cat. Gary spoke of the days of him looking out of his window at the passerbys while suffering from his own unspeakable pain. He wished that he could be the pedestrians walking outside instead of himself. He only wished for the pain to stop. As much as Gary gave mercy to the rat, perhaps he gave mercy to himself that day. As I stood there talking to Gary, most people walked right by the rat without even noticing its existence. Those who noticed the rat inexplicably gave the look of disgust and horror. I suppose that the grossed out reactions of seeing a rodent is useful to human survival since rats are known to be disease carriers and caused massive epidemics in the past. Being an odd ball, my mind began to wander. There is a constant battle between humans and those animals we deem to be an inconvenience to human existence and rodents are certainly at the forefront of that battle. We would like to wipe out the pesky rats and walk off into sunset so we don't have to worry about the wiskered lurkers stealing our ratatouille.
Perhaps the fate of humans and rats are in parallel of one another. While the spread of rats are considered to be a menace to humans, the spread of humans are arguablely a threat to Earth and ultimately our own existence. The prosperity of humans and rats are not inversely related to one another. I recently came across a research looking into rats' migration across the world. It appeared that the most likely scenario was that rats travelled across the ocean to Americas at one point, but they certainly didn't swim across the ocean. The spread of rats from Europe and Asia did not precede human activities. Rats are territorial and stay close to home, and those adventurous rats with the desire to explore the frontiers of Americas did so only with human assistance. Another research into New York rats' lives showed constant signs of battle between different population of rats. Rats in New York are adorned with battle wounds of missing eyes, broken tails, and so on. Due to the increase in international trade, local rat populations are constant being "visited" by other rats from around the world, but their genetic makeup do not show the level of diversity typical of mixing rat breeds. Researchers believe that the first wave of rat immigrants arrived and populated New York. New rat visitors were rebuffed by the original gangster rats if you will. Interestingly enough, it is unlikely that a lot of new diseases are going to be entering New York by "rats waking into the local rat population". The article concludes that "as much as we dislike brown rat, they maybe our staunchest defenders".
Humans and rats may appear to be mortal enemies, but our connections are beyond trivial. All species have one thing in common and that is our struggle for survival in our own ways. In this common struggle, I hope humans can show mercy for all animals, even if it's for a street rat.