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The Pied Professor

Another in a series of periodic dispatches from the war on vermin.

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I first heard of Dr. Austin M. Frishman from an exterminator. “The guy is a rat guru,” said Adam Vasquez. “He knows everything about them.” Most academics can’t claim such a devoted following among rat men, but Dr. Frishman’s not like most academics.

He’s a man with a singular mission: to understand everything about, and ultimately to conquer, the insurgent vermin population. “I respect rats,” he says. “I’m amazed at their ability to adjust, learn, and survive. But I despise them when they’re living with people. They are terrible animals.” He has set new records of expertise in his field: Since receiving the third-ever Ph.D. in structural pest control, he founded a department in a similar discipline at SUNY-Farmingdale, then went into business. He now answers the cries of farmers, government agencies, shop owners, and independent contractors overwhelmed by their rat problems. These missions have taken him over 2 million miles.

After all he’s seen, he still has a special appreciation for New York’s plague of rats. The city’s structure, he says, is their best ally. “You’ve taken 7 1/2 million people and pushed them together with their food and water and waste. If you have a field of corn and you put rats in there, they’ll take over. And that’s what Manhattan is, except we grow buildings and garbage.”

Some need-to-know rat facts, according to Dr. Frishman: Rats can climb out of toilets. They can scale buildings. They mature sexually at three months, and one litter can contain 22 babies -- which they’ll eat if hungry enough. Their urine contains salmonella. (“But so many things do,” he says with a sigh.) And worst of all, they grow bolder with age. “They’ll chew on an invalid because the person can’t move. If a child has food on his face, they’ll lick it off. And when they bite, they gnaw to the bone.”

Despite the odds, he’s impressed by the city’s recent extermination efforts, adding, “The mayor’s done a lot to help.” But he knows that time favors the rats. “Money is put towards pest control when the wrong rat shows up in the wrong spot. And then when you have a program going well, they pull the funds and the rats rebound,” he says. “You can’t evaluate the success of a rat program by how many you kill, but by how many you leave.”


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