As I walked home from school, a flutter of movement in fallen autumn leaves caught my attention. I looked down and saw a rat trying to drag himself over the leaves, but struggling to move a swollen body. Before reaching any sort of destination, the rat stopped and curled himself into a ball. I watched as he kept trying to curl up more tightly, shivering against the chill in the air. I looked around and saw that a rat poison box was about twenty feet away from us, and my heart sank and my eyes welled up. I could already tell that he was dying, and now I knew why.
I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew that he shouldn’t die alone and shivering in the cold, so I couldn’t leave him. I took off my sweatshirt and carefully wrapped it around him. As soon as he was wrapped up, he nuzzled his head into the sweatshirt in the same way that my dog nuzzles her way under warm covers. I sat down with him, and I wondered if I was waiting for him to die soon. But some rat poisons can take awhile to kill an animal, slowly poisoning them and giving them time to take pieces of the poison back to their babies and companions. So I scooped him up in the sweatshirt and held him protectively against my chest as I walked home. As I walked I could see his face, and I watched as he closed his eyes and let himself snuggle against me.
I took him home to a nest of blankets, wanting to at least let him have a warm and peaceful death as the poison took over his body. I called a wildlife center, which confirmed that rat poisons can take days to kill an animal, and they offered to euthanize him if I brought him to them. So I packed him and his nest of blankets into a box and put him in the car.
As I drove, I began to cry. His sleeping face poked out from the blankets, and I could see his tiny nose, black whiskers, and closed eyes. His feet were so small, with little hands that looked so delicate. His body barely moved up and down with his breaths; he was holding on, but already weaker than when I had first seen him. I kept thinking, Such a tiny little body, but so full of poison. I wanted to be able to do more for him than offer warmth and death.
This little rat had so quickly captured my heart, and I thought about all the animals who are so often invisible, but who are suffering and dying because of human poisons. I thought about the other little rats who do die out in the cold, and the ones who bring poison tablets back to their babies without knowing what they are doing. I thought about all of the rats in laboratories who are poisoned, cut open, and killed—generally treated as disposable lab objects. We talk much more often about the bigger animals—such as primates and dogs—who are killed, but each little rat also deserves to have us say that we will protect them from unnatural and terrifying deaths.
When I arrived at the wildlife center, I told the rat that I was sorry this happened to him, and I told him that we are working to make things better. None of that could save his life, but I hope he was able to feel love instead of coldness in his last moments. And I hope we can all feel his little heart in ours. He was tiny enough to snuggle into my sweatshirt, but he was a big reminder of how much every little critter’s life is precious enough to hold close and promise that we are fighting for something better for them.
Rat Poison Boxes
Rat poison boxes are often on the sides of buildings. They contain poison tablets that the animals eat and take back to other rats. Depending on the type of poison in the box, the rats can take weeks to slowly die; many of the poisons cause them to slowly internally bleed to death. If another animal eats a poisoned rat, they can also become very sick or die.
Some people decide to stop boxes from being able to kill rats. They sometimes smash the boxes and sometimes take them to remove the poison, and are then careful to not discard the poison in a way that it could still kill other animals. For example, they don’t throw the poison tablets in the trash or flush them. They try to take the poison to poison control centers or other places where hazardous material will be disposed of.
When people can’t remove the boxes, they sometimes move them away from the wall they are against (rats are most likely to run into a box against a wall because they run against walls) or use objects to block the entrances into the boxes so that animals can’t get to the poison.
When someone removes or alters a box, they often check on the spot later to make sure that it has not been replaced or made so that rats can get to the poison again.
Note: Humans should leave wild animals alone as much as possible, and respectfully and carefully handle them when there is need for intervention. We must balance protecting the wild lives of animals with the responsibility we have to help animals who have been harmed by humans.