How GW can help ease my fear of rats

Elinoam Abramov, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

I’ve had a fear of rodents for as long as I can remember.

But apart from the occasional sighting of a mouse scurrying across the Underground lines in London, this fear has never caused me any major distress. Then I moved to D.C.

I was shocked to discover that rodents, particularly rats, are everywhere in this city and seem to congregate around the Foggy Bottom Metro area, where I live. Not only are these pests omnipresent, D.C. rats seems to be a rare breed: they are unbelievably fat, with extraordinarily long tails, and seemingly unbothered by humans.

Instead of becoming accustomed to the presence of these creatures, as one would expect, my phobia only worsened. Walking home at night became an exercise in awareness: My eyes would scan the ground for any small, quick-moving objects, and my ears were alert, anticipating that horrible high-pitched squeak.

My fear of rats became so detrimental that friends started calling me neurotic, so I turned to my mother, a psychologist, for advice. She reassured me that musophobia – the clinical term for the fear of rats and mice – like all phobias, is irrational, for the most part. It normally arises from a combination of traumatic events from one’s past and internal predispositions.

She encouraged me to take a “rat’s perspective,” the classic method of reminding myself that they are more afraid of me than I am of them.

I felt better after my conversation with my mother, and my fear seemed to subside a little, too, after watching the Disney animated film “Ratatouille,” recommended by my 8-year-old brother. That showed me that not only can rats be extremely talented chefs, they can actually be quite cute.

As time passed, I made significant progress. If a rat ran past me, I no longer screamed and grabbed the arm of the first person I saw. Instead, I held my breath and repeated, “This fear is irrational.”

In fact, I had nearly forgotten about the rat problem in D.C. until The Hatchet wrote about Foggy Bottom Association President Marina Streznewski, whose 13-week-old dog died from a disease transmitted by rodent urine.

And after all the work I had done. This story tainted my newfound thinking that a fear of rats was irrational – clearly, they posed a serious health risk.

I started Googling: I was distraught to read about an incident over the summer at D.C.’s Providence Hospital, where a rat infestation was so out of control that rodents were feasting on corpses and attacking hospital workers, prompting several employees to sue for emotional distress. And that wasn’t all: In October, D.C. was named the third “rattiest” city in the country, which meant my fears weren’t too far-fetched.

The District’s health department claims to have “one of the most comprehensive rodent-control programs in the city,” but I’d sleep better at night if we were able to take steps on campus to help contain the problem as well (especially since the University has had infestations in the past).

Pest control action on a city-wide level is normally severe – methods in other cities have included rat poison or even sterilization of female rats so they are no longer able to procreate.

But effective action against rats need not be so reactive or morally questionable: For instance, New York City officials recently launched an initiative called The Rat Academy. It aims to educate New Yorkers about rat behavior and teach business owners and landlords how to make their buildings less attractive to rodents – all in a free, two-hour course.

A similar model could easily be employed by GW wherein students learn how to best keep their campus unattractive to rats. Think MyStudentBody or the workshops for how to be a good neighbor. It wouldn’t have to be mandatory, of course, but students like me with an interest in the matter could opt in to help ease some of our own concerns.

Albert Camus once warned “that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and enlightenment of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.”

It’s about time we make that happen in this happy city.

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