Our Rat

When I walk my dog I make a mental note of every dead rat we pass. Usually they’re near the gutter, splayed out above a curbside drain, or just inside someone’s gate. There are a lot of dead rats in Brooklyn. (And many live ones, too.) I try to, and usually do, remember not to go down that same route on the way back home. My dog, Tico, spends roughly twenty hours a day doing nothing. He alternates between lounging on my human-sized bed, less often lounging on his dog-sized bed, and, when the weather is nice enough, sleeping in a sun spot on the porch. He almost always looks very sad for no reason.

The scent of a rodent, however, seems to reinvigorate his will to live and his aspirations beyond staring wistfully out the window contemplating the meaning of his existence. So on a warm late-spring morning, it was no surprise when he picked up a foot-long dead rat on the curb, underneath the elevated train tracks, before I had a chance to spot it. I screamed and told him to drop it, to no avail. He’s seven years old and still has trouble grasping the “drop it” command consistently, which is definitely more my fault than his.

I tried pushing the dead animal out of his mouth with my foot without grazing Tico’s face, which didn’t work. A Latino deliveryman on a bike stopped in his tracks. “I’ll hold your coffee!” he offered, holding out a hand. I felt guilty pulling a stranger, in the middle of doing his job, into the situation caused by my inability to properly train my dog to drop the carcass in his mouth – so I thanked him but said it was okay. He offered again, and, figuring it would help me perhaps try to kick the rat out of his mouth without spilling coffee all over the place, I acquiesced.

The rat stayed put. I felt its slimy tail brush against my leg as visions of tending to a dying dog sickened by rat poisoning hours later flashed before my eyes.

Suddenly four men materialized seemingly out of nowhere. One had a rag in his hand and was speaking Spanish to a friend. Another man with a Caribbean accent so thick I could only make out some of what he was saying asked me what my dog’s name was, thinking, perhaps, it would lend him more authority when instructing my dog to drop the rat.

They tugged at his collar and his harness as we all chanted “drop it!” too many times to count, to a very stationary Tico. I thought about the definition of insanity being trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

“He’ll get tired and drop it,” said yet another man passing through. “Try walking him up the block.”

I walked halfway up the block with the two mostly Spanish-speaking good Samaritans by my side. A white girl with tattoos offered some advice that wasn’t very helpful, but I appreciated the concern. Just as all hope was beginning to dissipate and I figured I’d simply have to endure the walk home with carrion in tow, Tico did, in fact, get tired of holding the rat and dropped it. I was swift enough to pull him away from the dead animal, as the man with the rag jumped in front to block him from a second retrieval. We all cheered; I thanked everyone profusely, flooded with relief.

I crossed the street and that relief was instantaneously eclipsed by swelling gratitude as I replayed what had just happened: The community solidarity to retrieve a foot-long dead rat from a stranger’s dog in the middle of a pandemic – in the middle of a city hit hardest by said pandemic, no less – when we couldn’t even entirely communicate in words. Where else in the world does this happen? I thought.

As soon as I got home, I told my mother – who grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood where I did and where this occurred – what I’d just experienced. “That’s always how the old neighborhood was,” she said. “Whenever you needed help, people just appeared out of nowhere and helped.”

Sometimes I fear that the magic of New York has faded, but it turns out you just have to look for it (or have a dog who loves playing Catch That Rat). It’ll always be there.

Emmy Favilla is a New York–based writer and editor whose essays, reported pieces, and weird lists have been published or are forthcoming in Teen Vogue, BuzzFeed, Tenderly, Pigeon Pages, Ellipsis Zine, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and other publications. She is also the author of a book about the intersection of language and technology called A World Without “Whom” (Bloomsbury, 2017).

See more of her work in 8.3