A homeowner in the Northwest reports that her property is being overrun with rats and her dog has been bitten by them 18 times even though she has a clean home and orderly yard. Joan Lankow of Centralia, Wash., made news there as her rodent problem has grown out of control, with dozens of rats eating the grapes off the vines in her garden, the food in her dove cage, and invading her garage. While exterminators warn that this is a time of year when homeowners need to be especially on guard against rodent infestations, Lankow's situation seems extraordinary.
After trapping at least one rat per day, Lankow contacted KOMO 4 News in Washington to see if the TV station's "Problem Solvers" could help. While showing the TV station a trapped rat (pictured above), Lankow said it happened "every morning, and that's a small one compared to what we've caught in the past." The station got a local exterminator, Rick Reitman, to evaluate and attempt to remedy the situation at no cost for Lankow, who is unemployed.
Infestation by rats and other rodents can increase as the weather turns colder, says Mike Sauls, the owner of Cary Pest Control in Cary, N.C. They're looking for a warm place to nest, and food that is getting harder to find. "This is the time to make sure there are no breaches in your home that rodents use to get into your attic or garage," says Sauls. "You do not want mice, rats or squirrels to get into your attic or walls, make a nest and have babies."
As seen in the video below, Lankow's exterminator told KOMO-TV that he's so far baffled as to the cause of such a large rat infestation. Lankow's neighbors, meanwhile, have speculated that the rodents might have been displaced by construction projects nearby.
Whatever the cause of Lankow's rat invasion, you can have a rodent problem without actually seeing them. Mice have small, oblong, pellet-size droppings that give off an ammonia-type smell. The droppings are typically found along baseboards, in cabinets and under sinks. Rats, as well as mice, gnaw on paper, especially glue-bound books, plastic, wood, and wiring. They will also nest in clothing, especially bags of clothing that you may have stored off-season in the garage or until you can get around to donating them to charity.
Mice can flatten themselves to squeeze into small openings, such as under a garage door -- even when it's closed -- especially if the door is not completely level to the ground. A dryer exhaust vent can also be a point of entry, and keeping this covered with a screen or one-way door can help keep the critters from using it as tunnel into your home.
Keep mice outside by sealing any holes around your home that are larger than a quarter of an inch, according to the website of Ehrlich, Pest Control Experts. With a small opening the rodents can quickly gnaw to make even larger. "Therefore it is important to seal all openings with steel wool or caulk," according to the site.
If you do see a mouse in your home, you'll want to remedy the situation as soon as possible because where there is one, there's likely to be a few others, with many more to come. "The big problem with mice and other rodents is their ability to reproduce," says Sauls. "A nest of four to six baby mice will turn into a family of 20 to 30 within two to three months," he says, adding that there are also reports showing that 20 to 30 percent of all "electrical wiring" fires are actually caused rodents chewing on the wires.
When it comes to trapping rodents, lay off the cheese, though. Victor, a provider of electronic mouse traps says on its website that since a typical diet of mice consists of seeds and fruit, an ideal bait is peanut butter. Chocolate and bacon also work really well. Keep your food stored in glass or metal containers when possible. And know that if you feed birds or deer in the winter, you are also likely feeding rodents and attracting them to your home as well.
There might be rare times when a dead rodent in your yard may not mean that it came there to feed, though: This past summer a real estate agent was cited by police and firedafter purportedly scattering dead rats and snakes on the yard of a for-sale-by-owner house next door to hers.