"Rats! They fought the dogs and killed the cats, and bit the babies in the cradles ..."
Baltimore County's rat problems may not be as hair-raising as those above in Robert Browning's poem "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," but the disease-spreading vermin are an enduring presence in the yards and alleys of many neighborhoods.
The county's response to rodent infestation is Rid Rat, a complaint-driven program that gathers data from phone calls (on a phone line dedicated to rat problems — 410-887-RATS) and online contacts from a website. Inspectors follow up.
When evidence of infestation and/or conditions that keep rats sheltered and fed are found, inspectors give information to the property owner to correct the nuisance.
If no corrections are made, a notice of violation can be issued. Repeated failure to comply can mean a misdemeanor charge and a civil penalty of up to $500 per day.
The county also, using a contractor, exterminates rats in neighborhood sweeps. Notices are placed at street entrances when rat poison is put out.
The final, and most important, prong of the county's anti-rat campaign is education. Rats congregate and build nests at food sources. Residents are — negligently or unknowingly — feeding rats, who thrive not only on garbage, but on food sources like bird seed from outdoor bird feeders (even when rodent proof, bird feeders leave seed scattered on the ground), dog waste and compost piles.
Residents who think rats are thwarted by a plastic garbage bag have another thing coming. Rats chew right through plastic. Those bags need to be in a can and covered with a lid. ADD As a matter of fact, county laws require residents have lids on cans. And if you don't have enough cans for all your bags, get more cans.
By itself, the county cannot combat rat infestations; citizen cooperation is required. Be alert to rat presence, phone in complaints and keep property clear of food sources.
For its part, the county is armed with stiff financial penalties for scofflaws. Disregarding a violation notice can cost hundreds of dollars.
Does the Rid Rat program put enough feet on the street? If the volume of complaints becomes burdensome, the county may need to evaluate whether it has adequate staff to conduct its inspections and sweeps.
Because of the effect rats have on quality of life and property values, eradication should be a priority.
For more information about Rid Rat, go to http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/permits/ridrats/index.html.