The official editorial position of Commonplace Fun Facts takes a skeptical view toward government programs. We adhere to Ronald Reagan’s warning, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”
Having said that, some maladies are of such great magnitude that it is appropriate to bring the full force of all of the powers of government against them. At the top of the list is, of course, rats.
This writer was seven years old and working on the family farm — a place far removed from child labor laws and the 13th Amendment’s prohibition of involuntary servitude. One fateful day, I was in the corn crib and stuck my foot into a nest of rats. One of them crawled up the inside of my pant leg. The sound that came out of my mouth was at such a high pitch and volume that garage doors flew open 70 miles away in Detroit — no small feat since automatic garage door openers were not widespread in 1977.
Since that nightmare-inducing incident, rats have been Public Enemy Number One — even surpassing our utter disdain of people who carry on conversations while standing at the adjacent urinal. For that reason, whenever we learn of any government enlightened enough to use the powers of the state to eradicate rats from any part of the earth, we unreservedly give them our full support.
That is why Commonplace Fun Facts is pleased to announce Alberta, Canada as the greatest place on earth. Why? Because the wonderful, brilliant, and devoted public servants of that great province have recognized that they are on this planet to do the Lord’s work of making Alberta a rat-free territory.
According to the Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the province has been free of rats for more than 70 years. Can this really be true? Alberta covers 250,000 square miles (647,500 km2). It has more than 4 million people. If government leaders can keep all rats from a territory of this size, why haven’t we turned the entire world over to them and allowed them to be our benevolent overlords?
Although we firmly hold to the axiom that all rats are equally deplorable, Alberta’s primary beef is with the Norway rat. These dastardly carriers of disease first showed up in North America in 1775 as they continued their diabolical scheme of world conquest. By the 1920s, they made their way as far west as Saskatchewan, pillaging forth at the pace of about 15 miles (24 km) per year. In 1950, Norway rats were reported on the eastern border of Alberta.
There has to be someone to be the first to stand against the forces of evil hellbent on global conquest. Some courageous hero has to say, “Thus far and no farther.” For the rats, they faced their first serious challengers when they crossed the Alberta border. Recognizing the invasion for what it was, the leaders of Alberta declared war on rats in 1950. (Honestly, who can be anti-war for a cause as noble as this?)
The government of Alberta echoed the fortitude expressed by Winston Churchill against Nazi aggression: “We know too well the bestial assault you are making…. We will have no truce or parley with you or the grisly gang who work your wicked will. You do your worst and we will do our best.”
With Churchillian determination, Alberta drew a line in the sand and established a “Rat Control Zone.” Granted, we would have suggested something a bit more ambitious — such as blanketing all places where rats have been spotted with napalm and rebuilding civilization from the rat-free ashes. Even so, Alberta’s plan was far superior to the policy of appeasement that had emboldened the rats to that point.
The 373-mile (600 km)-long zone runs along the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. Devoted public servants known as “rat patrollers” fearlessly scour this 18-mile (29-km)-wide war zone at least twice each year. They go inch-by-inch, focusing primarily on granaries, abandoned barns, and storehouses of animal feed. Any place that could be a haven for rats was sought out. If evidence of enemy incursion is found, the rat patrol goes to DEFCON One.
Rapid response was seen in the southern Alberta city of Medicine Hat when rats were identified by rat patrollers in 2012. The Ministry of Agriculture established a rat hotline (310-RATS) and encouraged the citizenry to submit pictures of enemy invaders. Counter-espionage agents (colloquially referred to as “rat experts”) study the pictures to weed out the false alarms. Because most Albertans have never seen a rat, the hotline receives reports that turn out to be gophers or muskrats.
Former Mountie and current rat inspector Bruce Hamblin says that out of the 300 or so sightings annually reported to the rat patrol, “We only get about 16 confirmed rat sightings per year and about two or three infestations. But 98 percent of the time we get calls, it’s not actually a rat. We even had one lady earlier this year who called to tell us that she had found an extremely large rat in her basement. It turned out to be a small beaver.”
Editor’s Note: For those who are unfamiliar with the telltale identifiers of a rat, we offer this public service. A rat can be identified by its long tail, little ears, and its nefarious propensity to suck the very life out of anyone it touches. Ominous sounds of the tortured souls of the damned accompany rats wherever they go, but one should not depend upon this for identification, since the sound of screaming by any sane person in the vicinity will frequently overshadow the noise that accompanies the rat. Just to be on the safe side, if it has a tail and is smaller than a dog, you should probably kill it, burn everything within a five-mile radius, and move to Alberta.
Still unsure about what a rat looks like? Fans of Harry Potter will recognize this description of some of the most dreaded creatures in that world: “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”
If you replace the word “Dementor” in the above paragraph with “rat,” you have a perfect description of the enemy in Alberta’s war. In other words, the difference between rats and Dementors is that one is described as being the foulest of creatures that walk this earth, infesting the darkest and filthiest places. They glory in decay and despair. They drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them and suck every happy memory out of you. The other is a make-believe character in the world of Harry Potter.
If a rat sighting is confirmed, the rat patrol is dispatched, with orders to take no prisoners. Local law enforcement and pest control are notified and empowered to take lethal action. The citizen militia is called upon to patrol private property.
Because of the dire consequences of failure, this is one conflict where chemical warfare is permitted. In Medicine Hat, the government activated plans for Operation Haystack, in which poisoned bales of hay were dropped throughout the battlefield.
The war on rats is ongoing. Alberta’s claim of being rat-free doesn’t mean there are no rats to be found in the province, but the government is committed to preventing them from establishing themselves. The plan, thus far, is working. A map of the global distribution of the Norway rat shows only one sub-arctic place that is free from infestation — a beautiful slice of heaven in the exact shape of Alberta, Canada.
In writing this admittedly-biased piece, we recognize we may have offended some well-meaning but misguided rat aficionados. If you are one of them and wish to speak a word in defense of adorable little harbingers of Armageddon, please feel free to send us your thoughts. If you don’t receive an immediate response, please be patient. We’re busy packing up for our imminent move to Alberta.