WASHINGTON -- Socks the first cat notwithstanding, the White House is crawling with rats. Not the two-legged political kind, but rather the little furry guys with four legs and long tails.
Thus far, no rats have been found inside the White House, said White House usher Gary Walters. But staffers have been distressed by rats scurrying about when they leave work in the evening and gardeners have set 165 traps around the grounds and installed enclosed trash bins to combat the problem, he said.
The rat problem is not new with the Democratic administration. Barbara Bush was unnerved by an "enormous" one sharing the outdoor pool with her. Another one nipped her dog, Millie.
"There's a lot of green space," explained Mr. Gary Walters, who manages the residence. "The ivy provides a natural cover for them to hide."
The rat population normally fluctuates with the seasons, rising in the warm months when more tourists snack outside and discard scraps.
But recently the rats have been having a field day in Washington.
District of Columbia public works officials have been deluged with complaints from people in downtown neighborhoods around the White House. They attribute the problem to mild winters that are keeping more rodents alive.
The rat plague dates back at least 20 years, to when the city was torn up to build the Metro subway system. "The rats started looking for another home," Mr. Walters said.
No dummies, they took up residence in the 18 acres surrounding the White House.
"I've seen them late at night, right outside the gate," White House staffer Flo McAfee said.
"We have increased our controls, and I think our rat population is down considerably," Mr. Walters said with a hopeful lilt.