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Residents turn to homemade concoctions to rid Burkleigh Square of rats

Residents turn to homemade concoctions to rid Burkleigh Square of rats
Adam Whitlock, Baltimore County code enforcement inspector, recently issued 25 property owners in Burkleigh Square in Towson with correction notices, including 11 notices for having rat burrows on their properties. Here, Whitlock stands near a dead rat in a Towson alleyway in August 2012. (File photo)

Christian Estes is cooking up a little something for a good cause — getting rid of rats.

Not only is Estes using store-bought rat poison blocks, but he's also grinding them up in a blender and adding fried food scraps, like bacon bits, soy sauce, chicken strips and anything else to add flavor, in hopes that the rodents in his Burkleigh Square neighborhood in Towson will take the bait.

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Then, he puts out the doctored blocks or pours his special mix down any rat holes he can find.

"I've been mixing up my own little concoction," Estes said. "It seems to be killing them."

Burkleigh Square is the latest to complain about a rat problem that Baltimore County code enforcement officials say is a persistent, year-round issue countywide, especially in urban areas like fast-developing Towson.

"I had a pet rat when I was a kid, so I know a little bit about them," said Lionel van Dommelen, who also happens to be the county's chief of code enforcement. His office conducted a recent sweep of the four-street, 90-home neighborhood, in response to an official request by the Burkleigh Square Community Association.

Van Dommelen said his chief of sweeps, Adam Whitlock, slapped 25 property owners with correction notices, including 11 notices for having rat burrows on their properties, trash cans with no lids, garbage bags sitting outside houses or in alleys without being in trash cans, and other violations that could draw rats and mice. The sweep in June turned up five burrows, van Dommelen said.

The county conducts more than 100 such sweeps a year, averaging two a week, van Dommelen said. He said it's all the county can do to keep up with rats, who can produce up to 80 offspring per mating couple, and who grow to maturity swiftly.

"They breed exponentially," he said.

Van Dommelen said rat poison blocks don't always work, partly because the rats are no fools.

"They're pretty smart," he said, noting that rats often will push the bait blocks away from the burrowing holes. He recommends calling an exterminator, "which is probably your best bet."

He also said it is perfectly legal to put out bait on your own property, even recipes like the one Estes whips up, and that the code enforcement officers hear about a lot of creative concoctions, including some mixed with glass shards and steel wool.

Estes said his poison parfait is designed to be "tasty," and food references inevitably creep into conversations with residents about the rat influx and the consequences of lidless trash cans.

"That's just inviting rats to a buffet," said Greg Bauer, president of the Burkleigh Square Community Association, who requested a general code enforcement sweep. "When you put trash out in bags, that's just like gift-wrapping it for a rat."

Bauer, who has lived on Normal Terrace in the neighborhood since 1976, gave a walking tour of its streets and alleys last week, including patio decks, rotted tree stumps and bushes that he said rats like to hide under. He also showed trash cans without lids and trash bags out in the open.

He and other residents speculate that rats may be coming from a nearby apartment complex that is outside the Burkleigh Square boundaries and was not included in the code enforcement sweep.

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Bauer said rats might also be "migrating" from nearby Towson University, because many students have left for the summer and the rats' food sources may be gone. His neighbor, 21-year resident Tracey Marcantoni, wonders if development is tearing up Towson and displacing rats from other areas, sending them scurrying into hers.

"All the digging up stuff in Towson stirs things up," she said. "I think it exacerbates the problem."

Marcantoni, a mother of three, the youngest 13, said she worries about children encountering rats while playing flashlight tag after dark. She said she and her family were sitting outside one day a few weeks ago, chatting with neighbors, when a rat came right out in the street.

"It made a couple of passes," before fleeing, she said. "My husband was like, 'Look at that!'"

Van Dommelen said it's unlikely rats are crossing York Road from the campus to the neighborhoods, because rats typically "camp out" near whatever food source they've identified and don't stray more than about 200 yards away, If the food source dries up, the rats might turn cannibalistic and eat their young, or they might eat the poison bit more readily — or simply die off, he said. He also said that the rat problem is not limited to summer or the end of the school year at area colleges, although the problem may be more noticeable now than it is in winter.

Bauer said he plans to ask for another sweep later this year. For now, he and his neighbors are following trash protocol.

'"We're very careful about it," Marcantoni said. "And we rinse our recycling before we put it out, so it's not as appetizing."

Estes said the rat problem is a potential health issue. But he despairs about ever being able to rid Burkleigh Square of rats once and for all.

"We win a battle or two but never the war," he said. "It is going to be a long war. But you can't not fight (rats). You have to fight them."

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