Friday, August 29, 2008

Park Slopers See Rats and It's Bye-Bye Birdie

Above: a red-tailed hawk and a rat in Prospect Park. The hawk was photographed last month, the rat in 2004.

Park Slope residents—who else?—have noticed that there are rats around the dog beach, the rats urinate in the water, and that is not good for their dogs. The right solution is to put up a sign. The DOPR’s solution: poison the rats. From today’s Brooklyn Paper, “Rat Droppings Poison ‘Dog Beach’”:

Prospect Park’s Dog Beach, where hundreds of dogs cool off each day, has become a haven for disease-ridden rats whose bacteria-laden feces and urine could kill the canines.

The problem, health experts say, is that rats are known to be carriers for leptospitosis, a potentially fatal disease that damages the liver and kidneys of both humans and animals, and has been labeled the “most widespread [animal-transmitted] disease in the world” by the Center for Disease Control.

Pets become infected when they come in contact with bodily tissues or fluids from a diseased animal — something not that hard to do with sick rodents urinating in Dog Beach on a daily basis.

“In humans, this mostly causes a short-term flu-like illness. In fact, most people don’t even know they’re infected,” said CDC spokesman Shawn Shadomy. “But there are over 200 strains, each targeting a specific type of animal.”

Shadomy added that areas like the beach are prime targets for the disease: nearby rainwater can wash in infected urine on the ground, rodents can defecate in the pool itself, and the bacteria is hearty enough to survive in damp areas.

After complaints by Park Slopers this week, Parks Department workers put poisoned bait in the rats’ nests.

But this time of year, rats come out all around the Prospect Park Lake as well. And the DOPR has now generously permitted dogs to swim in that lake during dog hours. So next will no doubt be poisoning those rats too.

And here’s the problem: Prospect Park has a family of resident of red-tailed hawks, and this time of year plays host to all sorts of migrating raptors, most of whom prey on rats. When they eat poisoned rats, they die. It’s nice to know that the DOPR has its priorities straight: after all, it is the Department of Recreation, not the Department of Parks. So that Park Slope dogs can play in Prospect Park’s waterways instead of –heaven forbid—their owners’ fancy bathtubs, a bunch of unsuspecting birds are not going to be flying south this winter.

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