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Meet The Compassionate Women Who Feed New York City's Rats

Dashed Arrow Screengrab, courtesy of BRIC TV

Welcome to Rat Week, Day Three: Feeding Time. On this very special Wednesday, we will accompany two grown adults on a mission to... and I can't believe I'm about to type this... feed the rats.

BRIC TV, a local platform for "free cultural programming in Brooklyn," sent us a clip from an upcoming episode of Going In With Brian Vines, which premieres tonight at 8 p.m. In keeping with the segment's "critters" theme, BRIC spoke with performance artist and animal advocate Mother Pigeon, who spends her time scattering feed for her avian friends and felting small soft sculptures. While she primarily concerns herself with sky rats, make no mistake, Mother Pigeon saves space in her heart for street rats, and was none too pleased to hear Mayor Bill de Blasio announce that he would earmark $32 million to make war on these rodents.

"There's only a few left," she says in the video. "So if you enjoy rats, you're not going to be seeing them as much."

Just a quick fact check on that point: de Blasio launched his offensive in 2017, and redoubled his efforts this summer because the war could never have been won in just one year. To judge by this unofficial New York City Rat Index alone, our garbage gremlin populations continue to thrive across the boroughs. But five minutes spent in the subway system should be enough to remind anyone that there are far more than "a few" rats left. I mean come on, how many have you seen already today? There's one crawling up your pant leg right now.

Anyway, yes, some people—ahem—do enjoy these wiry trash bandits, and Mother Pigeon introduces us to another: Her friend Margaret Lee, who has been hand-feeding a nest of gutter rats for years now. Lee, as it turns out, is also embroiled in a lawsuit with her landlord, who sued her in 2017 because she allegedly refused to stop feeding pigeons out her apartment window, resulting in the sidewalk below getting consistently splattered in bird poop and seeds. One emboldened pigeon reportedly made a scene when it infiltrated the boutique on the ground floor.

Lee estimates that "her family," the rat family, has grown to about 40 in size, and vents her frustration with the popular assumption that rats will always find a way to survive. Why do we expect these poor creatures to succeed when we do nothing to provide them food, or shelter, or means of any kind?? She does her bit by cooking them nutritious meals, which she then deposits near the sewer grate they call home.

To be very clear, the rats do not need our help, with food foraging or with anything, really. This whole trash-strewn city offers these singularly food-motivated vermin a heaping smorgasbord, a 24/7 all-you-can-eat buffet that allows them to grow to the size of the very terriers bred to hunt them. New York rats also carry a mind-boggling array of pathogens, bacteria, and viruses. And they bite: Just ask these Bronx residents who have lately been terrorized by hordes of waste-fed monsters, which have taken to teething on the children. All of which is to say, the rats are winning, people. Please do not go out of your way feed the rats. They're doing just fine, thanks.

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