Pesky rats move in out of the cold, damp weather

If you’re all out of Alpo, your Subaru may not be safe.

Island County residents are battling a rat invasion, and the four-legged pests are not only scarfing down food left outside for cats and dogs, but making a meal of vehicles across the South End.

Island County officials say there isn’t a dramatic increase over previous years.

While that may be true, some car owners say they’re paying the price. Repair shops have been busy fixing cars damaged by the hungry varmints.

“Rats can do a tremendous amount of damage in one night,” said Matt Hassrick, owner of Hassrick Auto Repair.

“It is my unofficial observation that Subarus have a higher percentage of rat damage,” Hassrick said.

When it’s cold and wet, the rats head for shelter.

“In rainy, cold weather rats are on the move for dry shelter. For the most part humans don’t come in contact with them because they are nocturnal,” said Katie Hicks, environmental specialist for Island County.

“But we have received a number of calls about rats recently moving into crawl spaces and under hoods of cars,” she said.

It’s up to homeowners themselves to deal with any rats.

“We don’t do any pest control,” Hicks said.

“We recommend people use traps rather than poison to control rats because of danger to children and pets,” she added.

Hicks says she spends a lot of time educating people about rats and how best to control them.

“We are not going to eradicate rats, but we can do our part to keep them away from our homes,” Hicks said.

“Residents should make sure they are doing everything to minimize access to food and water,” Hicks said.

It means being careful with bird seed and pet food and getting rid of standing water.

“Don’t feed your pets outside or store pet food out doors,” Hicks recommended.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t feed birds. But you should have a tarp underneath the feeder to catch uneaten seed and clean it off every week or so,” she said.

Rats live within 65 feet of their food source.

Walk around the outside of your house and neighborhood with a critical eye. Keep garbage in metal cans with a lid, trim back brush and shrubs, maintain compost piles, drain standing water and secure openings to walls, ceilings attics and garages. Stack firewood 18 inches off the ground and away from buildings. Birdhouses and seed should be on poles and in trays.

“Rats only need a three-quarter inch space to crawl through,” Hicks said.

The two species on Whidbey Island are the Norway rat and the roof rat.

Langley resident Allard Caulkins has declared war on the creatures for chewing on hoses and electrical wires in his two cars. The gnawing has caused nearly $4,000 in damages.

“These are cars we use everyday or two,” Calkins said.

Rats got under the hood of his wife’s 2005 Forrester Subaru and chewed the wiring harness into pieces, leaving $3,200 worth of repair work.

On his own car, a 2002 Honda Civic, rats chewed the electrical wiring. That caused the car to overheat, and repairs cost $300.

“We have rats on South Whidbey, there is no question about it,” Calkins said.

Calkins and his wife live in a rural area adjacent to acres of forest, so the rats apparently began gravitating to his garage and cars when the cold weather hit last month.

Since then he has put out rat poison and an electronic gizmo to keep the pesky creatures out of his garage and away from his wife’s car, “I’ve never put poison out before. I don’t like to use it. But we haven’t seen any rats dead or alive since. They are pretty smart, they know how to stay out of sight,” Caulkins said.

Hassrick, the Calkins’ auto repairman, says he sees a lot cars with rat damage.

“We see one to three cars a week for serious rat damage. About 50 percent of the cars we work on show evidence of some rat damage under the hood,” he said.

Hassrick recommends placing a bait box under the hood to catch the unsuspecting culprits.

A Freeland quarter-horse breeder is fighting rats on his own turf.

“I’ve discovered rats inside my house. They got up on my counter and ate an entire piece of apple pie,” said Doug Johnson.

Johnson first tried baiting traps with Swiss cheese, then peanut butter.

“They outsmarted the traps. They got the food and got away,” said Johnson, who talked about his pest problem while in a local hardware store buying poisonous pellets.

“I don’t have any pets around my house, and a cat takes care of the rats in the barn,” Johnson said.

When traps and other methods don’t work, pest control operators get a call.

Steve Lindsey, owner of Surrety Pest Control says he sees rat problems every winter.

“The number of calls may be up a little more than last year, but not dramatically,” Lindsey said.

“We are our own worst enemies. We contribute to a lot of the problems by providing rats with food and a home,” he added.

“The most common attraction is dog and cat food. Feeding pets outside is like ringing the dinner bell for rats. I’ve seen rats living under or near dog houses run up and grab food from under the dog’s nose,” Lindsey said.

Another surefire way to attract rats according to Lindsey is by leaving your garage door open.

“You are saying ‘Come on in,’” he said.

“Check the weather seal to your garage door. If it’s chewed at the corners, you’ve probably had rats or mice in your garage,” he said.

“Everybody needs to do their part if we are going to control the rat population,” Lindsey said.

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