Posted by: Glow-worm PJ29 JUL 2009
Over the years, rats have had a chequered press, most famously as a mode of transport for plague-carrying fleas. Improved sanitation conditions brought about a measure of control, but it seems that thespians in London’s West End are up in arms over the number of rats scurrying around their theatres, and calls have been made to bring back the theatre cat.
This old-fashioned solution has the backing of the actors’ union Equity, which wants to improve working conditions in theatre land. Famous past pussies include Beerbohm, who resided at the Gielgud, and made it as far as the obituary page of The Stage.
The West End is not the only area seeking a return to old ways with regards to its rat problem. In recent months the German town of Hameln has highlighted a sharp increase in rat numbers. (The name was changed to Hamelin by Robert Browning to aid scanning in his poem.)
In the 14th century the pied piper of legend lured away the town’s rat population, returning later to repeat the feat with the children of the town as revenge for non-payment of his fee.
This Hameln situation is mirrored in towns and cities across Germany. The problem is being blamed on strict rubbish control regulations, introduced to encourage recycling. Refuse sacks that are too heavy or ill-sorted are rejected, leading to an increase in fly-tipping. Also, leftover food is being flushed into sewage systems. Both practices provide ideal conditions for explosions in rat populations.
In Berlin, there have been controversial suggestions that those receiving benefits should be encouraged to form rat-catching squads in the capital, with a bounty of €1 per dead rodent.
One of the major objections to these suggestions appears to come from animal welfare groups, who say the job should be left to professionals, and fear that the rats may not be dispatched humanely by amateurs.
This method would still appear to be an improvement on the popular Victorian method of rat disposal, the rat pit. The public would collect live rats and take them to their local hostelry, where they would be thrown into a pit with a vicious dog. Bets would then be taken on how many and how quickly the rats would be killed. A bull terrier set the record in 1862, killing 100 rats in 5 minutes 28 seconds.