Pending bill to ban guinea pig sales is far more likely to succeed than rat control bills passed by 44-6 margins
NEW YORK CITY–– “Legislation to prohibit New York City pet stores from selling guinea pigs has 35 co-sponsors in the New York City Council – this is incredible!” exulted Voters for Animal Rights on October 27, 2022.
“These co-sponsors represent a supermajority,” Voters for Animal Rights informed members, “requiring the City Council to calendar a hearing on [the proposed ban] within 60 days.”
The hearing is now set for December 14, 2022, just in time to get lost amid the seasonal holidays.
Voters for Animal Rights has made passing the guinea pig ban a focal issue since New York City Council deputy speaker Diana Ayala introduced it in early February 2022.
New York City Council “dragging paws”
But the prospective ban on selling guinea pigs has in truth picked up only one new co-sponsor since September 13, 2022, when Katie Honan of The City lamented that, “The city council is dragging its paws” on the bill.
The 34 co-sponsors that the guinea pig sales ban had then already amounted to a supermajority on the 51-member New York City Council.
The 60-day clock ran almost to the last second before the December 14, 2022 hearing was scheduled.
S/N for guinea pigs costs 10 times more than guinea pigs themselves
The argument for the ban is fairly simple: Animal Care Centers of New York City received 282 cast-off guinea pigs during the first eight months of 2019, 481 during the first eight months of 2021, and more than 600 during the first eight months of 2022.
Only two veterinarians in New York City perform spay/neuter surgery on guinea pigs, according to Animal Care Centers of New York City spokesperson Katy Hansen.
The surgery costs from $400 to $515, quite a lot for a pet usually sold for under $40.
Since male and female guinea pigs are notoriously difficult to distinguish from each other, and can produce five litters per year, the risk of abandoned guinea pigs becoming feral inhabitants of the greener parts of New York City is relatively high.
New York City previously banned ferret & rabbit sales
Certainly guinea pigs would suffer steep mortality, as prey for hawks, owls, feral cats, dogs, and nest-raiding rats, but any guinea pigs finding a plentiful food source would have little difficulty weathering the New York City winters, being native to the much colder high Andes of South America.
The prospective New York City sales ban on guinea pigs has precedents, including a sales ban on ferrets passed in 1999, and a sales ban on rabbits passed in 2014.
“The delay,” offered Honan, “ is partially related to [New York City Council] speaker Adrienne Adams’ skittishness around any animal-related hearing, as activists continue to push for a ban on horse-drawn carriages, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.”
Rat Action Plan
No skittishness on the part of any New York City Council member was evident, however, when––also on October 27, 2022––the council passed four bills meant to reduce the population of another hardy rodent whose numbers are of much more evident public concern than the alleged population explosion of guinea pigs.
The four bills constituting the Rat Action Plan passed by identical votes of 44-6, with scant reported debate despite the likelihood that it will accomplish practically nothing.
The first three components of the Rat Action Plan require major private construction projects to hire exterminators to deal with rats flushed out of demolished buildings, require city agencies to establish new rat mitigation zones, and require the New York City health department to report annually on progress in rat control.
NYC City Council apparently never watched rats
The centerpiece in the legislative package orders the city sanitation department to change the start of set-out time for trash containers from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
This supposedly will reduce the window of opportunity for rats to chow down on garbage.
Apparently no one informed the New York City Council that rats are chiefly nocturnal, so seldom begin their trash banquets before nightfall, whether the garbage containers are at curbside or up an alley, where the containers typically spend the week between pickup days.
The Kit Burns era
New York City already had plentiful Norway rats at the time of the American Revolution, 1775-1783.
(See also Rat & Rats, by Jonathan Burt and Robert Sullivan.)
Especially after rats gnawed a newborn child to death in 1860 at Bellevue Hospital in midtown Manhattan, city officials encouraged rat hunters for hire to capture as many rats as possible, to be killed in ratting contests at the Walter Street Pits, adjacent to “Dead Rabbits” gang leader Kit Burns’ Tavern in what is now believed to be the third oldest building in the city.
The “Dead Rabbits,” featured in the 2002 Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York, rivaled the “Bowery Boys” for control of the New York City criminal underworld for nearly three decades.
Though ratting contests kept the contestants’ terriers busy, and gave gamblers something to bet on between pit bull fights, despite the opposition of American SPCA founder Henry Bergh, they accomplished nothing to suppress rat infestations. Rat-borne diseases spread with urine and feces annually killed dozens of times more humans than ever actually suffered rat bites.
Amateur rat-hunters still prowl New York City by night with both small terriers and pit bulls, according to recent media reports, killing rats for sadistic sport. Speeding taxi cabs, however, probably kill more rats than the ratters.
Why killing rats fails
Heavily publicized official rat-killing campaigns kill thousands more rats, but to little more visible effect, for two fairly obvious reasons.
First, animals of any sort tend to reproduce as rapidly as nature permits, until they reach the carrying capacity of their habitat.
Second, rats reproduce much more rapidly than even guinea pigs, rivaled among mammals in urban habitats only by mice, whose pinky nestlings form a major protein source for nest-raiding Norway rats.
The basic laws of animal ecology dictate that neither New York City nor anywhere else can lastingly reduce the resident rat population, whether by extermination or birth control, without simultaneously reducing the food supply available to rats.
Poisoning campaign brought more rats
Failing to comprehend that, former New York City mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017 initiated a $32 million rat poisoning campaign.
Reported rat discoveries during the next five years rose from 16,315 to 21,600 in the first nine months of 2022 alone.
Note: this is the same Bill de Blasio who pledged to remove horse-drawn carriages from the New York City streets, but made no visible effort to actually do it.
New York City is far from the only U.S. urban center with plentiful rats, according to the pesticide control company Orkin. Orkin estimates that rats and mice, usually occurring together in a little recognized predator/prey relationship, occupy about 21 million U.S. homes, or approximately one household in six at any given time. A third of Americans each year see a mouse or rat in their homes.
Orkin believes the most rat-infested U.S. metropolitan areas are, in order, Chicago; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.-Hagerstown; New York City; San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose; Seattle-Tacoma; Detroit; Cleveland-Akron-Canton; Baltimore; Miami-Ft. Lauderdale; Dallas-Fort Worth; Denver; Houston; Atlanta; Boston-Manchester; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto; Syracuse; Indianapolis; and Charlotte.
There is no comparable data for guinea pig abundance.
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