Rats vs. Nukes, Stray Cats vs.
Florida & a Dog Lovers’ Bacteria
For thousands of years, no other trio of animals have been so close to us. Whether you love or abhor their company, most of us have at least one funny story to share about a rat, a cat, or a dog we’ve met. But behold, for furs always fly when one fails to recognize their own stripes.
Some stories may start with a flamboyant set up: so a rodent, a feline, and a canine walk into this bar and… We’d rather tell you about the environmental bent of Japanese rats; the furious fight over southern feral cats; and a bacteria type that only people who love dogs carry.
To be sure, that’s not a threesome that you’re used to seeing mentioned in the same sentence either. Except, maybe, as the title of some obscure flick. And cats’ undisputed dominance of the Internet, viral video division, is inversely proportional to our own aversion, or general failure to fully understand, rats, mice, and the vermin attracted to our provisions since immemorial times.
With dogs, though, it’s another story, one that usually invokes feelings of companionship, loyalty, and not a small penchant for being subservient to our most spurious interests. It all points to our bottomless guiltless ability to subjugate animals in order to prevail in our daily grind against our own species.
If we could, for a moment, see the natural world through unbiased eyes, perhaps we’d have the clarity to recognize that having been bestowed with a sense of moral, we’re the first ones to betray it. And all other living beings are muted witnesses to our nefarious sense of supremacy and self entitlement.
RATS HATE NUKES
The final and sad toll of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which struck Japan’s Pacific coast in March of 2011, was close to 16,000 dead, with thousands more injured and officially missing. To that, one may add now a few rats, unsung heroes of an ongoing battle between environmentalists and government bureaucrats.
Along with death and destruction, another scary consequence of the catastrophe was the meltdown at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex provoked by the tsunami. It not just disabled the plants, but to this day it’s still generating radiation to contaminate the surrounding area, including the ocean. That may continue for centuries.
Despite that, a misguided multimillion dollar effort by Japan’s government seeks to prop up Tepco, the utility that operates the plants, and bring the aging, and potentially lethal, complex back on line. Public outrage at such prospect has reached an all-time high, but has also gone nowhere with the country’s officials.
Now, though, an unsuspected foe has consistently stood between the wealthy backers of the faulty nuclear plants, and the sake of the Japanese’s health and environment: rats. Twice they’ve caused operations to be shut down, which naturally cost them their lives: they got fried caught in the unbelievably vulnerable electric circuits of the multimillion dollar facility.
Ironically, they’ve been the most effective deterrent against the government’s plans. Just as sad is to admit that, while busy protesting fracking, and our continuous dependence on fossil fuels, we may have left unmanned the front trenches against nukes elsewhere. Thus many have begun talking about them again as viable alternatives to our current energy woes.
With all respect to our furry heroes, don’t be a rat and get fried by this fallacy; nuclear power remains untamed, and no one can guarantee our survival in case of a major chain reaction. Stating the obvious, atomic power, even as developed for energy purposes, can still destroy the whole planet faster than those unfortunate rodents met their big cheese, so to speak.
CATS UNDER THREAT
Here’s what could pass for a family feud of sorts: in Florida, a proposed bill is pitting animal activists against… environmentalists. Cat lovers want to pass a law protecting the state’s increasing population of strays, against objections by those invoking the feline predatory instincts as a threat to other species.
It’s a complicated matter. One of the plagues of modern world cities is the growing hordes of stray cats and dogs (and rats), whose overpopulation has been a combination of neglect from us, and omission from public health officials. Who, at the end of the day, have to deal with the dire consequences such explosion causes.
Life as a feral, for a splendid creature such a cat, is one of miserable pickings, disease, and early death. Surviving off our garbage and waste is most definitely not the way nature had set them up to live. On the other side of the fence, there are some with no qualms about calling for the extermination of urban felines for the sake of birds and small species.
For as much as we love cats and nature and all that, we’re not mad yet to side up with either these sides. There are many ways to coping with animal (and human) overpopulation, without considering mass extermination, or insane pro-life rhetoric. Curiously, few seem invested with as much vigor in the solution (education) as they seem to be in order to prove their particular point.
Unlike pythons and boa constrictors, cats are not an invasive species of Florida, any more than they are all over the planet. But their demographic explosion is our responsibility, and needs to be addressed with the only tool that helps us move forward: research and understanding of what’s at stake.
Like the snakehead fish in the north, they only began to thrive when forcibly introduced in the Glades by bored or uneducated pet owners, and at this point, massive sterilization campaigns may be necessary. As for the birds and bees, they seem to be out of luck, no matter what they do it. And that is, mos def, our loss and fault too.
DOG LOVERS’ SPIT
Now, forget about what you’ve read above about dogs’ subservience and such. The truth is, people who live with them share more than love and an emotional bond. They also partake at least two types of bacteria, found on their skin and the pooch’s tongue and paws. And before you go all germaphobic on us: both kinds are harmless.
In fact, and this inevitable piece of trivia must be old news to any Howard Hugues worth his anti-bacterial soaps, we’re all covered in billions of microorganisms, more than the cells in our own bodies, mostly not just harmless but crucially important to our good health and well being. Believe us, we thoroughly washed our hands before writing this.
But according to a team of scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Betaproteobacteria and actinobacteria, the two kinds found both in humans and canines, are unique to this particular pair. Friends for at least 30,000 years, inseparable in life and, often to the dog’s misfortune, death too, it’s possible that such sharing has started long ago indeed.
Obviously someone has asked them whether a similar micro bond was found, say, between cats and their subjects, er, lovers, but no, no bacteria for those. That’s, of course, irrelevant to dogs, and cats, and rats, for that matter. We’re the only species vain enough to attribute ourselves the command of such kind of intellectual exercise.
That’s not to say that the study in itself is without merit. Bacterial research has saved millions of lives, both human and canine, and given our weakening immune system, it may be crucial to our survival in a world facing the prospect of a nuclear winter, extinction of pollinators, and diminishing native species.
One thing is for certain, though, even though we take it for granted: without the love of our pooches and kittens, we may as well greet that horrifying doom and gloomy day with the disposition of a vermin. A million times may your last sight, instead, be of the dripping, slobbering, sticky, and stinky tongue of your best furry friend. Or life may not be worth having been lived.