On a clear, crisp morning recently, I had the chance to shadow some of the pest controllers from the DC Department of Health’s Rodent Control Division as they made their rounds in Foggy Bottom.
As you may have noticed, rats are a persistent and growing problem in our neighborhood. Some of the reasons for rat infestations are beyond our control – our urban location, our location so close to the Potomac River, and a lot of local construction activity that drives rats from their underground burrows. But according to Supervisory Pest Controller Gabriel Curtis, we can do a lot to reduce the problem.
The key, according to Curtis and his colleagues, is taking away the rats’ food source. This is not easy. Rats have been successful evolutionarily precisely because they can eat just about anything – and they do. In addition to what we humans consider food, rats will dine on a wide variety of garbage. The lesson for us is to pick up everything and store all waste in secure cans with well-fitting lids. And we do mean everything – empty pizza boxes and beer cans on the ground are invitations to local rodents to feast in our yards, driveways, and alleys.
Another source of food for rats is your garden. While this is not prime gardening season, it’s worth remembering that those of us who grow fruits and vegetables need to protect what we’re growing with fences and pesticides and/or traps. We need to ensure we pick up fallen produce immediately, and keep our gardens as clean as possible.
To address the rodent problems, DOH staff use a strong rodenticide that interferes with the ability of a rat’s blood to clot. Back in the day, they used Warfarin, but DCrats are immune, so the Rodent Control Division uses a newer chemical. They spray the chemical in powder form into rat burrows, and then cover them. In other cases, the pest controllers will set up bait stations along paths that rats travel. It is important for us to not touch these bait stations – and we need to keep our pets away as well.
If you have a rat problem on your property, there are a few things you can do. First, keep the area clean and clear. Don’t provide the rats with anything they can use for food or shelter. If your trash can or recycling bin have seen better days, get new ones; you can purchase good quality receptacles from your local hardware store or from the DC Department of Public Works. Line your trash cans with heavy-duty trash bags to keep the cans themselves clean. And don’t waste your money on those mint-scented trash bags that supposedly deter rats. They don’t work. You’ll spend a lot of extra money, and all you’ll get is rats with fresh breath.
The Rodent Control Division is available by appointment to treat single-family homes. You can call 311 (from a phone with a 202 area code), or go to 311.dc.gov and file a service request for Rat Abatement.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can reduce the rat population in our community, the Foggy Bottom Association is planning a Saturday afternoon Rat Summit for early December or early January. Stay tuned for details.