During this past spring and summer, Bernard Worrell enjoyed the water views and sights of ducks and the occasional blue heron from his deck overlooking Laurel Lakes. Being an athletic person, he often used the jogging trail that wraps around the lake and attended events at Granville Gude Park, which sits across the lake from his town home.
Life at Laurel Lakes was peaceful and good for the single bank executive — until a couple of months ago. That's when unwanted critters started to show up inside and outside his lakefront townhouse.
"Mice have been running around my place on the outside and getting into my basement, which faces the lake," Worrell said. "Two of my neighbors across the street said they've seen them, too."
Worrell said some of his nearby neighbors, who have lived at Laurel Lakes longer and have also seen the mice, said they have not had a problem with them in the past. They speculated that the mice are connected to the demolition and construction going on at Towne Centre Laurel at the site of the former Laurel Mall just up the street, although Laurel's chief building inspector and code enforcer Dave Cope disagreed.
"When construction at [Towne Centre Laurel] started, I got about three calls about rats [in a nearby neighborhood]," Cope said. "We went out with tracking equipment, but I don't think they came from the mall. I haven't got any complaints from Laurel Lakes [about rats or field mice]."
Roy Gilmore, who lives at Laurel Lakes, said he has not seen any rats in the community these days but said there were rumors at one time of them being a problem near the restaurants along the lake. However, like Worrell, he has seen mice in recent months at his single-family home.
"I've lived here 16 years and the mice usually come indoors this time of year to get warm," Gilmore said. "They mainly get in my garage. I put out traps and make sure I don't have any bird seed around for them to get into. I keep it sealed up."
Cope recommends residents keep their trash and recycling lids firmly closed, because that will attract rats and mice. He said the main problems he has seen with rats and mice in the city have involved vacant and foreclosed homes.
"Sometimes when people leave a foreclosed home, they will leave food in the refrigerator and cabinets. I had a foreclosed house on Fourth Street where neighbors said there were rats in the backyard of it," Cope said. "There was food in the refrigerator – and the owner had unplugged it and left the door open – that they were after."
In cases like that, Cope said they will attempt to find the current owner of the property and order them to clean it up. If the property is not cleaned up, the owner will be fined and taken to court if necessary. In some instances, where the owner can't be found in a timely manner, as in the case of the Fourth Street home where rats were affecting neighboring homeowners, the city will act.
"We cleaned up the Fourth Street foreclosed house, checked four or five houses on each side of it for rats and now have a lien on the property for the city to get reimbursed," Cope said.
City residents with an animal problem can call city officials for assistance and they will investigate, but Cope said in cases of ants, rats, mice and some other wildlife, the city will not send out exterminators as it does during the summer months to rid the area of mosquitoes.
Marjorie McCoy, who lives a few doors down from Worrell, said she paid $200 out of her own pocket to rid her deck of a large critter.
"I had a groundhog that lived under my deck," McCoy said. "When I tried to take a picture of him, he chased me, so I was willing to pay somebody to get rid of him."
As for rodents, she said, "I've been here two years and I've never seen any rats or mice, but when you live near a lake, it's possible. I do have ants but no rats or mice."
Worrell's mouse problem has not soured him on his lakefront home. He said the mice that have found their way into his basement have not chewed any wiring or gotten into his food, but their presence and unsanitary reputation was enough for him to take action.
"I put out traps and I have a friend who is an exterminator who gave me [rat poison] to put down," he said.
Cope still warned, "The biggest thing is you have to be careful in putting out poison because people do walk their pets in the area, or a cat could be around and get into the poison. … Try to trap them instead.
"I've caught two mice in traps outside," he said, "and one in my basement so far."