By Dedra Cordle
Katie Roush was certain she was still in a dream.
It was late in the night when an urge to quench her thirst roused the Prairie Township woman out of bed. As she poured her water into a cup, she noticed a shadowy movement near the base of her kitchen floor at the corner of her eye. Drawn to the atypical disturbance, she blinked once, twice, three times rapidly to try to rid her mind of the vision of a foot-long rat making itself at home in her dwelling.
“At first I thought that this can’t be happening, that I was still in that dream state,” she said.
But Roush realized she was not dreaming.
“I backed my way out the kitchen and walked down the hallway as quietly as I could, shut my door, put a towel under it, grabbed my dogs and just sat on my bed in a state of grossed out shock.”
After finally coming to the realization that it really was a rat, she turned on her phone and got to work.
“I couldn’t sleep, so I immediately started researching ways to get rid of them,” said Roush. “I texted my husband and told him to bring as many rat traps home as he could, then I called Orkin and told them to come out as soon as they could. After they came out and told me I had entryways into my house, I bought concrete mix, silicon caulk, boards, anything.
The Prairie Township resident then ordered ultrasonic pest repellents.
“I wanted them out, I wanted them gone and I wanted them to stay gone.”
In the weeks after her first incident in February of last year, she found seven rats total – five outdoors and two indoors. Fortunately for Roush, she has not encountered any more rats since fortifying her home but the same cannot be said for many other people living in the area.
Since being made aware of the growing rat infestation problem last summer, the township has been collaborating with Franklin County Public Health (FCPH) to try to get a foothold on the issue.
“It’s not a quick fix; it’s going to be a slow process, but we’re trying,” said Zoning Inspector Connie Swisher.
One measure the partners have taken is to establish a Rat Prevention and Elimination Workshop, which is a free educational program for the community. There, the residents learn how to identify entry points, take steps to fix them and the means that can be used to eliminate them. The first session was held on March 19 with roughly 45 people in attendance.
One identifying feature of a rat problem on your property, said Sarah Fink, a mosquito management and vector programs specialist with FCPH, are burrow holes under brush or alongside the foundation.
“They want to feel protected and having burrows in these places make them feel right at home,” she explained.
Since burrows can often be used by other animals such as snakes or chipmunks, she suggested crumpling up a piece of paper, placing it in the hole and monitoring whether the paper has been displaced.
“If it is, the chances are that you have an active rat hole.”
She suggested patching up any possible entry points – even the easily overlooked openings like dryer vents – with silicone caulk or steel wool and wire.
“The steel wool and wire are good options, but I have to mention that rats can chew through hard materials,” said Fink.
She said if fortifying the foundation, be sure to put any sheeting at least two feet into the ground. As for homes, she recommended rat traps with greasy, protein rich foods like peanut butter, bacon, and Slim Jims. She did warn the residents that they are dealing with highly intelligent and suspicious animals.
“It may take them a few days to feel comfortable going up to investigate,” Fink said.
She said rodenticides can be used, but be mindful of who or what is also living in your homes.
“If you have small children or pets, be aware of the risks,” she said. “If a dog eats a rat that had been poisoned, they’ll have eaten a rat with poison in it. You’ll have to take them to the veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital to be checked out.”
She also went over other elimination suggestions, such as dry ice in burrows – she warned not to use these close to the foundation as you do not want CO2 coming into your home – as well as clove oil and Coca-Cola in burrows.
“Those haven’t been proven scientifically but some people said they have found success with those methods.”
Fink did not, however, recommend live traps.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she said. “You run the risk of catching a pathogen and then you have to think about where you would release it. I mean, how many people would be happy if they saw you release a rat near their property?”
She also said if you are facing an infestation, only licensed, professional help from a pest control specialist will do.
The issue of trash left out in bags was discussed at the workshop, especially after the public health representatives said to use alternative means, such as thick plastic or sturdy metal cans.
Residents said they feel the elimination of bags left on the curb for collection, or just outside in general, could greatly quell the rat problem.
“We cannot allow people to keep leaving garbage bags out,” said one resident. “It’s disgusting and attracts rats, among other things. I’ve seen them chewing through them on multiple occasions.”
Swisher said she and Township Administrator Rob Peters have discussed the collection issues but said it was ultimately up to the trustees to make that decision.
During this discussion, one resident mentioned commercial trash and faulty bins, to which Swisher said they were also trying to address.
Due to the scale of the problem, the workshop will be held for the community twice more in April, once on the 1st at 1 p.m. and once on the 3rd at 6:30 p.m. It will be held at the Prairie Township Hall, 23 Maple Drive.
Swisher said she hopes that the community will attend the workshop and learn more about prevention and elimination topics and then spread the word among their families, friends and neighbors.
“We all have to do our part to combat the issue,” she said. “It’s not going to take a small handful of people to do it, it’s going to take all of us.”
As for Roush, who attended the workshop, she said she still has lingering paranoia about her rat encounter one year ago.
“I’ve done what I can but I still have this fear that I’m going to come home one day and they’re chilling in my kitchen, eating crackers,” she said. “I don’t want that to happen, so I have to stay vigilant and make sure my house isn’t attractive to them.”