As New Yorkers returned from Long Island beaches to Penn Station on Sunday night, we encountered a sick rat who was hobbling very slowly through a crowded corridor. City dwellers are accustomed to seeing rats on the train tracks or on the streets late at night, but we almost never see one inside of a lit building. As a result, many people stopped to watch and take photos. I wanted to spring into action to help this suffering animal, but I didn’t know what to do. A ticket agent directed me to a police officer who said the animal consumed rat poison. He said he couldn’t do anything until the rat died. When I suggested that he put her out of misery or move her out of the busy hallway, he asked, “How would you like me to do that?” I could see that the rat was on her own.
I attempted to direct the rat to the wall where she might be less stressed and where people would be less likely to taunt her, but I didn’t have any luck. As I stood there helplessly, I noticed that many people passing by were saying, “Yuck. It’s a rat” without a stitch of sympathy. And that’s when I realized that this rat didn’t have to die in vain. To the people who said, “Yuck,” I responded, “She’s dying from rat poison. She must be in so much pain. I wish I could help her.” I don’t think anyone expected to hear that, and I could almost see the lights go on in some peoples’ heads as their disgust turned into compassion. After a few minutes, a (gorgeous) man in his twenties or thirties, who said he was an orthopedic surgeon, scooped up the squealing rat in a plastic bag and said he was taking her home to die in peace. If I hadn’t been so stunned by his confidence and compassion, I might have pretended to be dying so that he would pick me up and take me home too. This man’s actions spoke louder than my words, but I’m glad to have possibly opened a few hearts and minds by asking people to consider the suffering of the rat. Our interactions with animals – wild or domesticated – always present us with an opportunity to advocate for them and to be their voice.