Apparently, August is the month of the rat. Last week, Rosie Gray explored rat bites, which, it appears, are down this year, and on Monday, Jen Doll shared a new fan trailer for the rats of Tompkins Square Park. Last year, we established that rats are indeed New Yorkers’ least favorite pests. Well, at least most New Yorkers. There are, in fact, those among us who actually advocate for rats. For example, the self-proclaimed “Advocate for Rodent Rights” Sister Mary Therese, also known as the Tompkins Square Park Rat Lady. A profile of her, um, nontraditional relationship with the rattus norvegicus (thank Google) after the jump.
Sister Mary Therese spends her days in New York city public parks encouraging “rodent-human relations” — particularly in Tompkins Square Park and Grand Army Plaza Park, which have been getting the most anti-rat coverage lately. Her supplies include handmade signs, home-printed rat pamphlets, and peanuts, a favorite rodent treat, which she feeds the rats and offers to other park patrons.
We caught up with her in Tompkins Square Park for a chat, and she was more than happy to oblige. Rat lady (she doesn’t mind the title; we asked) is outraged at what she terms “the systematic anti-rat sentiment plaguing a perfectly lovable species. Squirrels don’t need advocates, and they are some of a rat’s closest animal cousins!”
When faced with the fact that squirrels live in trees, not sewers and rat holes, Sister Mary Therese points out, “We don’t criticize carrots for coming out of the ground, do we? Rats are just the animal equivalent of a tuber.” Also, “Rats are kind creatures who unfortunately carried diseases in the 1400s, diseases that have been eradicated.”
She continued, “People are afraid of rat bites, but rats only bite when they are threatened, and are just responding to the systematic hate, abuse, and prejudice of generations of humans. I am never bitten by the rats because I treat them with respect and love.” She does not have pet rats, because “the rats of the parks of New York City are all my pets and friends,” and because she uses the money she would spend on other pets on these “worthy creatures.”
Park-goers have mixed feelings about her efforts, she says. She’ll get “a lot of animosity from people, particularly folks with kids on the playground, and a lot of shock that I will feed the rats — but then that gets them talking to me and perhaps talking to the rats.”