NORTHFIELD — Residents want the city to get rid of rats, but a recommended solution includes eliminating some popular yard uses: bird feeders and gardens.
Several residents brought their concerns to City Council at its Sept. 11 and Sept. 25 meetings. Jackson Avenue residents brought complaints about rats in their neighborhood that they alleged were coming from an unoccupied home in the 300 block of Jackson.
Complaints for rats go to the county and not to the municipality. Items filed with the Atlantic County Division of Public Health include a complaint filed in June at a property in the first block of Locust Drive, where a rat was running in the front yard. Another complaint was for a rat seen on a property in the first block of Willow Drive. A third complaint was filed for a property in the 600 block of Burton Avenue, alleging a rat infestation. There were two calls reporting rats on Jackson Avenue. The complaints were from May through August.
The county is trying to educate residents on how to rid their properties of rats. The county Division of Public Health/Environmental Health Unit spells the solution out clearly: Stop giving the rats a free meal.
City Council bandied back and forth ideas about how to rid the neighborhoods of the unwanted visitors. At the Sept. 11 meeting, Councilman Jim O’Neill suggested the city consider looking into exterminating. On Sept. 25, Councilman Jeff Lischin was sympathetic to the resident’s plight but said, “There are pets and kids in the area. I will not agree for the city to put out bait or poison. I will not let the city be exposed to that kind of liability.”
Mayor Erland Chau cited the county’s advice to get rid of the rats' food sources, mainly bird feeders and backyard gardens.
Councilman Frank Perri said there have been occasional complaints about rats over the years. “I know of some residents who had reported seeing rats last year that did not put up their bird feeders this year and the rats did not return. Bird feeders are half the problem,” said Perri. He added that the rats are almost domesticated because their food source is so readily available from bird feeders and residents’ gardens.
One thing council members agreed upon was the need to educate residents on what might be attracting rats to their property. The mayor said he understands residents enjoy having bird feeders in their back yards and watching the birds they attract, unfortunately sometimes they attract more than birds. In order to help educate residents, a flyer will be included in the next city sewer bill that will spell out the suggestions put out by the county to get rid of rats.
According to the information provided by the county, garbage is also rat food. A trash can without a tight-fitting lid is an invitation for a rat, so make sure there are sufficient cans and all of the garbage is in the can and not just near it.
The county said cat and dog food left outside along with bird feeders are sources of food for rats and suggested picking up pet food that is sitting for more than 20 minutes. Bird feeders should be at least 4 feet off the ground, but even that may not deter the rats, as they are happy to feed on the bird droppings left after the birds stop and eat the seeds.
Rats will make a home in wood piles, old furniture, old appliances, piles of lumber or rubbish. One pair of those unwanted guests can produce 50 offspring in a year, according to the Division of Public Health. The county suggests if a homeowner has a problem with rats they contact an exterminator to handle the job.
Bob Schwenker of Hoffman Pest Control weighed in on rat eradication. Schwenker said there are various ways a property owner can eliminate rats. The exterminator listed baits, snap traps, removal of food sources and keeping the property free of debris. He added that clutter provides excellent shelter for the rodents. Structure exclusion is key.
“A professional can quickly inspect an area and make the proper recommendations,” Schwenker said.
Most people cringe at the thought of rats. But as much as the property owner might want to use any method to get rid of them, there are risks to kids and pets.
“Rodents do carry diseases that can infect humans and pets. Do not touch dead rodents, droppings or nesting material. Traps and baits should be in areas not accessible to pets and children,” Schwenker said. He added that small infestations can be eradicated in a day or two with traps but larger populations can take several weeks and even months to eliminate.
Schwenker said a rat only needs a hole the size of a quarter to gain entry. One DIY method homeowners may try to keep rats out is to stuff steel wool into cracks and openings.
“Steel wool rusts and eventually breaks down, leaving the entry point accessible again. We use a product called Stuff-It, which is a copper mesh which has a much longer residual life," he said. "Larger holes require a more permanent solution, which should include some type of metal, so the rodent cannot chew through. Rodent incisors grow continuously, so they need to gnaw to keep them at a comfortable length. Unfortunately, sometimes rodents gnaw on electrical wires and cause other damage.”
He suggested calling a full-service exterminating company that will be able to offer recommendations and an exclusion program that prevents rodents from entering.
Chau said he wants more help from the county and has a meeting scheduled for Oct. 13 to talk about rats and about West Nile Virus, saying both are areas of public health concern to Northfield residents. He said he will bring the results of the meeting back to City Council to discuss.