Royal Oak, ClawsonJuly 16, 2012
Residents restless as rats high-tail it through town
By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer
ROYAL OAK/CLAWSON — Holes are appearing in the sides of trashcans and tool sheds, shadows are seen skirting across driveways and backyards, and the shuffle of small feet can be heard in the bushes when all the pets are indoors.
The rats are out.
Residents in both Royal Oak and Clawson are struggling with a longtime foe at a new level this summer, as a population peak late last fall stuck through the warm winter and is now causing a nuisance throughout both communities.
“Once in a while in the last few years you’d see one every once in a while or a dead one in the street that someone hit,” said Royal Oak resident Joyce Mathews, who lives near Campbell and Lincoln. “There’s more bugs, there’s more everything this year. There’s not a day or night that there’s not a rat.
“My husband and I sit on the porch. At about 9:15 p.m., you can watch the rats run down the neighbor’s driveway down the street. It’s almost to the point it feels overwhelming. You get rid of one and know there’s 100 others. Hearing them scurrying, it’s so nasty because you know they’re just leaving some trail of bacteria or virus behind.”
Mathews, who has small dogs and house cats, is concerned for her pets’ safety. She won’t let them outside at night without a leash.
“We’ve had problems with rats the past eight years,” Mathews said, noting it’s never been this bad. “We’ve never had them in our garage or shed and (now) we have a hole going into our shed. I don’t want to put poison out there because I have dogs.”
Clawson Code Enforcement Officer Barbara Chambers, who previously held the same position with Royal Oak, said peppermint and ammonia — both of which can be applied through gels or liquids as an invisible fence of sorts — drive rats away, but simply cause them to relocate into neighboring yards. She said poison bait available at local hardware stores explodes their capillary blood vessels and kills them.
“I say to the residents, you have a choice: You can kill them or you can drive them away,” Chambers said.
That choice was taken out of the hands of Clawson resident Karen Schwocho, whose German Shepherd puppy Jack brought the severity of the problem to her attention one day earlier this year.
“It started before I got my dog,” Schwocho said, noting that she first saw mice or small rats scurrying about in February. “Probably the third or fourth week of March, I got my puppy. I was playing with him in my backyard and he ran up to me with a dead rodent in his mouth.”
Upon swinging by the vacant home neighboring hers near Main and Massoit, Schwocho quickly discovered where Jack, who is usually kept on a tether on Schwocho’s property, found his rat.
“I walked around her house and saw dead rodents lying all around her house. So I started picking them up and throwing them away,” Schwocho said.
With a young puppy, child and at-home business, Schwocho said she is concerned; but the problem has subsided at her location since a rat poison was put by the rat burrow entrances June 19.
“I see very large rodents coming out of her crawlspace, grabbing stuff and running back inside,” Schwocho said. “There had to be a colony living there.”
Since rats are primarily nocturnal, they are most often spotted after sunset or early in the day, but rarely between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.
How to avoid them
Scott Slater, an officer with Eastpointe-based Hunter Pest Control who helped Mathews take preventative measures after a nest of more than a dozen baby rats was found under her tri-level deck, said the problem peaked between this past Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“In the last couple years, there’s been an increase,” Slater said. “It doesn’t seem like they’ve done any more construction than normal. It goes up and down. Five to six years ago, St. Clair Shores had a problem because they were redoing all their sewers.
“Mainly, it’s people leaving dog droppings, leaving garbage out. A lot of decks also, they don’t have their decks screened off. Low-cut bushes are a problem, too. You don’t know the burrows are there until you see rats and then you see a ton of rats.”
Slater said, in addition to options like peppermint and poison, one of the biggest deterrents is cleanliness.
“The main part is getting rid of their habitat, anything they can hide in or around,” Slater said.
He noted that brick piles and decks, especially those with multiple levels that don’t go into the ground around all sides, are prime locations for rats to nest.
“They only want to go in soft Earth. They want to go in a garden,” Chambers added. “They’re probably behind a shrub that I can’t get to. They don’t want to travel too far because it’s not their nature. They like to stay hidden.
“I did seven rat inspections on Tuesday (July 10), but there were no burrows at any of the houses.”
Chambers said July 12 that she already had a half-dozen more inspections to do July 17. She noted that covering garbage cans can help cut off rat food sources.
One less effective option to get rid of rats is using birds of prey such as hawks and owls to hunt down the small rodents.
“A few years ago, they released a bunch of hawks in the area, but now the hawks are plucking up the pigeons instead,” Mathews said.
Chambers and Slater both said highly populated areas and businesses with Dumpsters are prime locations for rats to find food and housing materials. Downtown restaurants and local grocery stores are also more likely to have issues than any other type of retailer.
Employees overthrowing garbage bags so they land behind the Dumpster, as well as paper, cardboard, leaf or twig bits on the ground, all draw rats.
“The grocery store (where) we found a problem, they had garbage issues,” Slater said of Fresh Approach at Campbell and Lincoln. “Now they’re making sure they clean it up every night.”
When reached for comment, a manager at Fresh Approach denied ever having or even hearing about issues with rats from the surrounding neighborhoods, but Slater indicated a city inspector checked up on the location at least three times to make sure their trash was being properly disposed of.
Royal Oak Code Enforcement Officer Gerald Karr referred the Royal Oak Review to Chief Building Official Jason Craig, who could not be reached for comment last week.
Clawson residents experiencing rat problems should contact Chambers at (248) 435-4500, ext. 113.
Royal Oak residents experiencing rat problems should contact Karr at (248) 246-3212.
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