Can Cats Solve New York’s Rat Problem?

For the second time in seven months, one of New York Mayor Eric Adams’ own health inspectors has ticketed him for rat infestations at the Brooklyn brownstone he calls home.

Because it wouldn’t be New York without things turning into a circus, the man who unsuccessfully ran against Adams for the mayorship, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, took advantage of the mayor’s embarrassment by bringing two of his 16 18 cats to Adams’ block and holding a press conference on the sidewalk where he touted felines as the solution. (Adams, who is well known for his hatred of the rodents, famously held a “rat summit” at Brooklyn Borough Hall in 2019, “gleefully” showing off a new rat-killing contraption to reporters.)

Introducing reporters to his tuxedo, Tiny, and tabby cat, Thor, Sliwa said Adams was missing the most obvious solution to the rat problem — cats — and offered to become the city’s “rat czar” free of charge.

“Like most New Yorkers, [Adams] is frightened of rats,” Sliwa told reporters outside the mayor’s brownstone. “He’s tried everything but it’s time that we revert back to the best measure that has ever worked — and that’s cats.”

As we’ve noted before on PITB, Sliwa and his wife are dedicated cat servants, perhaps overly so. They currently house 18 cats in their Manhattan studio apartment, Sliwa said on his radio show this Sunday. Some of them are the couple’s pets and some are fosters for their rescue.

sliwacats
Nancy and Curtis Sliwa with one of their cats. Credit: Matthew McDermott

The rat problem in New York is real and, sadly, as bad as people make it out to be. You can hear them at night in many neighborhoods, and it’s not unusual to see them briefly caught in the glow of streetlights before scurrying into the shadows again.

I’ll never forget watching an entire conga line of them at the 125th St. subway platform. They just marched out of a hole in the twilight, each one bigger than the last, going about their business without any concern for what people might do to them.

And the answer, they know, is nothing. Because New York’s rats aren’t regular rats. They’re well-fed freaks, ballooning to enormous sizes thanks to the abundance of garbage cans to eat out of and the way garbage is collected in the city. Back in 2015, video of a rat dragging an entire slice of pizza down the steps to a Manhattan subway platform went viral, racking up more than 12 million views and earning the rodent the title Pizza Rat:

People who aren’t from New York and have never visited are probably shocked to see garbage piled high on the sidewalks of every street. New Yorkers are supposed to put the garbage out the night before pickup, but no one really observes that rule, and the mounds of trash grow for days before sanitation removes them. It’s a feast for the rats, and any solution has to start with cleaning  up the garbage situation.

In the winter the cold weather prevents the contents of the trash from rotting, so the stink isn’t as bad, and sometimes the trash mountains are covered by snow.

But in the summer, when the tree-lined avenues get their green canopies and flowers bloom in window boxes, the city reeks. On hot days, the perfume of New York is rotting trash and the overwhelming smell of urine wafting up from the subways. Sometimes I think of what the Japanese, with their spotless streets and shiny subways, must think when they come to New York for the first time.

In October, after the city fielded a 71 percent increase in rat complaints over the previous year, the city introduced a new law making it illegal to put trash on the sidewalk before 8 pm ahead of pickup the following morning. The change hasn’t made a dent in the rodent problem.

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A 2015 study by Matt Combs of Fordham University documented the enormous size of New York City’s rats. Credit: Matt Combs

In any case, New York is not a good place for cats. Thankfully we have a huge and generally well-funded network of rescues that get kitties off the street and pulls cats and dogs from the city’s animal control system before they’re due to be euthanized, but strays who fall through the cracks don’t last long.

Indeed, when the New York Post talked to one of Mayor Adams’ neighbors shortly after Sliwa’s latest press event on Sunday afternoon, the woman said she’d like another cat to patrol the area around her building. The last one, she explained, had been run over by a car.

I don’t really expect anything to come of Sliwa’s plan to use cats in rat-infested locales. The red-bereted radio host is hawking the scheme because he likes to be a thorn in the mayor’s side, and because it generates free publicity, especially from the city’s tabloids and local news channels.

But if it ever comes to fruition, and people really expect strays to handle their rat problems, Sliwa and company better have a plan to keep the cats safe from traffic.

18 thoughts on “Can Cats Solve New York’s Rat Problem?”

  1. The only cats that can do this are feral cats. I hope they do not mean strays or friendlies! Ferals are very street saavy.Cat rescue take strays and friendlies when they can. So the answer would be yes. I have seen ferals with dead rats in mouths through the years. My semi- feral Bootsy killed two young rats in my garden. My client sends me feral cats with dead rats in mouths. 🤮Some people tell me they wish they had few fixed ferals as they are great rat killers.My feral colony have passed and owner of building says rats chew through wires. Ferals killed them and owner was grateful but also loved seeing the ferals.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I would hope so, but I don’t think it’s going to happen anyway. Even if Adams agreed, and Sliwa went along with it, I’m pretty sure the city’s rescues would not be happy.

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      1. Actually, Neighborhood Cats have done this with fixed ferals at some airport in N.Y. Forgot which one. It takes a lot of planning. First, cats must be acclimated to an area where they will have to live. Process of putting ferals in another area is hard work.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I do recall it being said there are more rats in London than people (a lot of those people probably qualify as rodents tbh…) however, Bella has killed and brought in 3 to memory. I agree that Cats on the roam in NY ( as in London) are not the answer, as they risk danger from Human issues like cars and cruelty.

    Although long ago in London, the “plague” was blamed on cats when it was rats, killing cats at that time further helped spread the rats and the plague. We still have burial sites from the plague.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I remember the rat-speakers in “London Below” (the magical realm inside the tube) from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and the antagonists who snacked on rats.

      Humans can always be relied upon to do the dumbest thing, as the cat-killings during the plague confirmed.

      Luckily feline heroes like Bella are now celebrated!

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  3. Interesting article. Seems like Sliwa and the mayor don’t get along. It’s true that many cats will hunt rats (I have several on my farm. One collects tails as trophies.), not every cat will or can hunt. Rats can be formidable, and NY rats look pretty big!
    Getting rid of rats takes more than having cats on site. Food and shelter have to be eliminated or the rat problem will continue.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sliwa has been around forever. He’s the guy who co-founded the Guardian Angels, those men and women in red jackets and berets who started to patrol the subways and streets in the late 70s and 80s when crime in NYC was really bad.

      So he’s like a local gadfly writ large, always a thorn in the side of elected officials, and Adams is like this smooth former NYPD captain who wears expensive suits, is supposed to be the guy who can rein in the crime, and notoriously hates rats.

      It’s kind of funny when you think about it. It’s a weird city.

      But yeah, nothing’s gonna work as long as those mountains of trash remain.

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  4. That’s a tall order for the poor cat that is smaller and probably less powerful than the rat. I remember about the trash outside everywhere from visiting New York.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Right? That’s gotta be one of the things people notice most when they visit. When I worked for Newsday my office was right around the block from Madison Square Garden, and in the spring the relief from the warm weather quickly turned into “Oh man, I forgot how bad this place smells” lol.

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  5. Sliwa & Adam’s have one thing in common which is their love of cats. That’s where it ends. I think it’s a somewhat good idea in theory but NYC is no place for stray cats, especially when there’s no way to keep them on that block of rats (Or any area of rats) . The cat’s would certainly be at a high risk of death by car or disease & the elements are going to come into play here. Sliwa hasn’t had a good idea in, uhh, forever? Adams, isn’t the best man for the job either but it is what it is. Still, I understand we have a problem but maybe a more natural solution would work? We could feed the rats something that would chemically make them unable to reproduce. Then the population would diminish in time. It’s a thought & my thought doesn’t endanger cat’s. Hi Buddy’s! Hope you’re doing well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah it’s just not a practical solution and Sliwa is doing this for the PR, which is why Adams is taunting him back instead of taking it seriously. As for Adams, the man really does not like rats. If you read about his “rat summit” from 2019 (who holds “rat summits”?!?), there are some pretty gruesome details about his rat-killing contraptions and how much he seemed to enjoy using them.

      His Lordship Buddy is doing just fine, lounging beside me at the moment, supervising my activity. Likewise, I hope you and Oreo are well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You would be correct. Sliwa is doing this for publicity. I respect that he wants to fix the disgusting system of kill shelters but i found him to be very arrogant. Don’ t ask me how i know this.VERY long story. Adams came to our fundraisers and found him to be the opposite. And the trash that is not really secured is a problem. Some restaurants have those huge metal garbage tins where rats cannot go in but not every restaurant can afford them.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I met him years ago when I was working for a regional newspaper and he showed up to offer the help of the Guardian Angels after a crime spike. It was interesting. He’s a magnetic guy in person, which is why he’s been a prominent personality in New York all these years, but yeah, he’s arrogant.

        Adams is arrogant too, just in a different way. I mean, the man wears $5,000 suits. I think he’s generally sincere about his desires to solve the crime issue in New York, and I think he was a much better choice than some of the “disband the police” types who ran in the primary, but it takes more than good intentions.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes I hadn’t known about his hatred of rats went to that level. Until you said something about it I looked into it. As much as I don’t like rats I’m not a sadistic about it as he is. I mean I couldn’t own a snake bcuz I couldn’t fed it a rodent. Plus I’ve been known to save mice from glue traps & I used Humane traps when I had a problem for a few month’s. Maybe he’s got some childhood trauma with 🐀 rats. I get hating them but Adam’s takes it to a level that makes me uncomfortable & all this aside, extra rubs & love to the Buddy. That boy of yours makes me smile.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m concerned. A big rat can bite a cat and hurt it. I would never send my little Panther-Guy on a rat mission. Plus rats are disease carriers. Eewww😟

    Liked by 1 person

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