San Diego rat tales

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A few weeks ago, I was startled to find an unwelcome visitor climbing up a wall inside our North Park garage—a rat. My wife and I had dealt with mice at our last house (also in North Park), but the only time I had ever seen rats in San Diego was near the jetty at Dog Beach in Ocean Beach. As I began to research traps and what kind of rat I was dealing with, I was surprised to find that the rodents were a hot topic of discussion in Southern California.


How rat gets into your toilet

A National Geographic special

A National Geographic special

Carl Demaio, chairman of Reform California, was in the news cycle last month claiming that “California is being overrun by rodents.” Reform California has a new report out that includes data regarding increased service calls for rats over a 12-month period. 23 different pest control companies throughout the state participated, and the survey found that all of them had at least a 25-50 percent increase in service calls related to rats. The majority of the companies reported a 76-100 percent increase, while two companies even reported a spike over 100 percent.

Demaio’s report mentions Orkin’s annual “Rattiest Cities” rankings. The nationwide pest control company ranks cities by the amount of “new rodent treatments” performed annually. San Diego jumped from the 47th rattiest city in 2016, to the 26th rattiest city in 2018. Los Angeles currently sits in the number two slot, while Chicago claimed the throne for the fourth year in a row.

Reform California’s report mentions that “the measured and observed increase in California’s rodent population is directly related to the increase in the state’s homeless population.” This doesn’t sync-up with San Diego County which saw an 11 percent decrease in homeless last year. If the rat population is increasing here, it might be being driven by something other than unsanitary homeless encampments.

San Diego County’s Vector Control Program monitors insects and other animals capable of “transmitting the causative agent of human disease.” They logged over 2500 complaints (peak amount since 2010) about rats in 2017, but those numbers dropped to about 1800 in 2018. So far this year, they have received 873 complaints or requests for service. According to Vector Control, “This is lower than in past years at this time (2018: 1,213, 2017: 1,310, 2016: 1,211).” Most of the service requests they received between 2016-2018 were within the City of San Diego. The city of El Cajon had the second highest amount.

To get a closer gauge as to how rats are impacting human lives in my neighborhood, I sent out a feeler for local rat stories via social media. I was surprised to find that numerous individuals in the North Park area have had encounters with the pesky pests. Corinne Maxfield relayed the tale of a rat that she and her fiancé named “Invader Zim.” Zim bunked up with the couple for a few months in their 400-square-foot duplex.

“Peaceful nine am coffee & book reading interrupted by a skittering rat across the center of the living room, tail as long as my forearm, truly a New York City-sized rat. Quarantined it in our kitchen, and waited for it to trust our traps. Could hear it banging pots and pans in the cupboards while we tried to sleep. Took four days. Not until it was disposed of that we learned the true horrors. We keep a clean house, but every single corner hidden by furniture, including our BED, behind couch cushions and picture frames, was COVERED in feces. We thought it strange we did not uncover a nest, as we realized the rat must have lived with us at least two months (based on evidence such as chewed bath mats we did not dare fathom were compliments of a fat rat). Worst of all: a month later, we extra deep-cleaned the stove and removed the ceramic top portion, and found it had made a cozy home under the burners. We cooked food for months over layers of rat excrement and fat knots of MY HAIR (?!!) and mounds of carpet fibers and mystery items. All to think that rat simply waltzed up the stairwell and into our happy home through the screen door. Or worse yet, up through the toilet. If you have not seen the YouTube video on the science behind rats and their fascinating acrobatic talents in climbing up toilet pipes, I highly recommend enjoying that real life horror media.”

You aren’t completely safe outdoors either. Lisa Michael and her wife would often take to a hot tub at night at their home in Normal Heights. While enjoying the water, they regularly saw rats running up and down their fence or along the edge of the sunshade above them. On one occasion, things got a bit too close for comfort when a rat decided to join the party.

“One night a rat fell right into our hot tub! Ugh! He couldn’t get out! It took several cringing attempts to get him scooped out! Ugh!! We both shrieked verrry loud while we were trying to scoop it out of the hot tub,” Michael said.

And that’s not even mentioning the tale of the dog that threw-up the hairless rat, the nicotine-addicted rat that would steal packs of cigarettes off a back porch, or the guy who witnessed a posse of crows repeatedly swooping in and picking-up and dropping a rat in order to either kill it or fight over it.

So, yes, they stay hidden for the most part, but San Diego definitely seems to have its fair share of rats. The question now is how do you get rid of them or keep them away from your residence?

Vector Control states that rats cannot live without food, water or shelter and that you can get rid of rat problems by rodent proofing your home and storage buildings, removing food sources from your property, using traps (not poison bait) inside your house, using traps or poison bate outside your home, and getting rid of rat habitat.

While perusing rat capturing and killing mechanisms at the Ace Hardware in Hillcrest, I picked the brain of their buyer, Kathy Gorman. She lives in San Carlos and has had issues with rats on her property for years. She was adamant that the electronic rat traps they sell (which shocks a single rat for about two-minutes in a design not far removed from an electric chair) was the best choice for eliminating the rodents.

“It’s probably as humane as you can get to get rid of a rat. They die right there and there’s no cleaning up anything. There’s no blood. There’s nothing. You don’t have to look at it. You don’t have to touch it. You just go to the dumpster and drop him in and hit the button and reset,” she said.

Gorman estimates that she has killed over 50 rats in the eight years that she has owned the trap.

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