A City Manager’s Guide to Rodent Response

The recent article in the Democrat-Herald regarding an increase in rat complaints reminded me of my long experience with this issue, despite the limitations of my training on the subject.  I am not aware of any public administration program at an accredited university that specifically addresses rats.  Students are taught the basics of human resource management, public finance, land-use planning, and administrative law, to name a few; but I do not believe there are any courses devoted to rodent control.

I offer the following thoughts on the subject to my fellow City employees and any members of the public who might be reading along as a practical guide for avoiding or dealing with furry intruders:

  1. As noted earlier, city employees (including city managers) generally have no training in rat control and few resources available to really resolve a rat crisis.  We can order property owners to clean up messes that might attract or harbor rats, but the law generally takes some time to work through the process.  Private exterminators provide more immediate and effective rodent control service.  I particularly enjoyed the astute observation of one of Albany’s exterminators who was quoted by the local newspaper as follows:  Bob Gilman at Ketch-Um Wildlife Control said he doesn’t get a lot of calls to dispose of rats [in Albany] and he said he hasn’t received any lately.  “There are, however, quite a few rats in Corvallis,” he said (emphasis mine).  
  2. When a rat appears in your toilet, flush it.  Rats are good swimmers, but they are no match for the magic of modern plumbing. 
  3. Make sure, when responding to a rat complaint, to determine whether the rat is feral or domestic.  A number of years ago, our public works foreman came into my office with the carcass of a white rat that had apparently made its way into someone’s toilet.  He (our foreman) wanted to know whether this was a city problem or a homeowner responsibility.  My judgment was that we could assist with feral rats, but property owners should be held accountable for escaped pets.  I found it disconcerting that I had to remind our foreman to take the dead rat with him when he left my office.
  4. Do not feed pets outdoors where they will be forced to compete with opossum, raccoons, squirrels, and rats for sustenance. 
  5. When all else fails, move to a cold, rural place with few people and strict laws against maintaining livestock in town.  I worked as the city manager in La Grande for ten years and do not recall a single rat complaint during my tenure.  Winters are harsh in Eastern Oregon, and our biggest animal problem was the occasional deer or elk herd that would wander into town.  We generally did not allow chickens or other farm animals in residential neighborhoods.

Finally, it seems hypocritical to me for people who live in a place where a rodent is the state symbol to complain about their presence.  Oregon is the only state that has a two-sided flag, with the state seal on one side and the largest North American rodent on the other.  Far too many people in the area display pictures of rodents on their cars, homes, and, in a few desperate cases, their persons.  It should come as no surprise that rodents are attracted to places where they seem to be revered.