Rat patrol

Adam Whitlock, a Baltimore County code enforcement inspector, stands near a dead rat in an alley while performing an inspection in Ridgeleigh on Monday, Aug. 20. (Photo by Steve Ruark / August 20, 2012)

If you feed them, they will come. Then rat eradication sweeps become necessary, says Baltimore County Chief of Code Inspection and Enforcement Lionel Van Dommelen of the sweeps in the Towson area that began Monday, August 20.

The sweeps are part of a two-part process meant to eradicate rats from Ridgeleigh, Hillendale, Knettishall, Ridgely Oaks, Loch Raven Village, Towson Manor Village and parts of Towson Park.

"The rats are doing what we expect them to do: eating and breeding," Van Dommelen said.

"It's the people who can't keep their trash and animal feces picked up who are feeding these rats and causing their population to grow," he said.

Van Dommelen said beginning Monday, sweep teams composed of Baltimore County Code Enforcement Officers are hitting the streets, issuing tickets for behaviors that attract rats, such as trash cans without lids or loose bags of trash.

That's the first part of the process.

Then, the exterminator, who is a subcontractor working with the county, works at code enforcement's direction to take care of the rats themselves.

Van Dommelen said neighborhoods have been chosen based on complaints, with an emphasis on treating entire clusters as opposed to individual neighborhoods. The last extermination took place two summers ago, he said.

During the first set of sweeps, $150 tickets are being given to violators. After the extermination is complete, code enforcement will return to levy $250 fines against violators.

County officials say the most common rat in residential infestations is the Norway rat — a breed that prefers to live underground in burrows. The burrows are most often made alongside building structures, fence lines, walkways, patios, sheds and under low decks. Adult Norway rats are 12 to 18 inches long with a tail that's 5 to 8 inches long. Their fur is brown to reddish gray on their upper back and grayish white on the belly.

Rats typically live about one year, although they may survive longer, and females may have four to seven litters of young per year — with each litter having 6 to 12 young. That means a total of about 30 young can live to maturity per year.

When the county announced the Towson-area sweeps, 5th District County Councilman David Marks said, ""One of the most frequent complaints we receive is about the presence of rats, particularly in older neighborhoods. Eliminating rats and other pests can improve public safety and our quality of life."

For more information on the county's Rid Rat eradication program, visit http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/permits/ridrats/index.html. County residents may call in complaints or request information at 410-887-RATS.

Rat control tips

The county offers the following tips for rat control. The most important point is the elimination of the food, water and shelter necessary for them to carry on the breeding process.

• Be aware. Inspect property for signs of rodent activity.

• Be neat. Keep yards free of trash, debris, high grass or accumulations of building supplies.

• Don't feed rats. Pet food, dog manure, open garbage cans or cans without tight fitting lids or bags of garbage, bird seed or other food scraps are an open invitation for rats Do not put household garbage or food scraps in compost piles.

• Cut off their water supply. Dump pails, unused flower pots, toys or equipment in which water can accumulate.

• Protect your home. Close any holes found in the foundation, eliminate cavities under steps, sidewalks or porches. Close threshold gaps at exterior doors. Provide a heavy mesh screen over sump pump outlets.

• Clean up outside eating areas. Minimize spills round the barbecue. Also, stop feeding wild animals such as birds and squirrels. Vegetable gardens or even fruit trees may have to be removed in cases rodent abatement.

• Don't build in problems. Minimize or eliminate crawl spaces under decks or sheds. If building low to the ground is unavoidable, use wire mesh to close gaps.

• Communicate. Talk to family members and neighbors. Rodent infestations must be addressed by everyone.

• Fight the rat. When you see a rat or rat burrow, take action immediately. Fill in the burrow to see if it is reopened, indicating an ongoing infestation. Then take measures to exterminate the existing population.