Overview of the Ward 1 Rat Summit

Dr. Robert Corrigan speaking during the Ward 1 rat summit.

Dr. Robert Corrigan speaking during the Ward 1 rat summit.

On Saturday, November 9th, the District Department of Health, along with Councilmember Jim Graham, Department of Public Works Director William Howland, and Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Nicholas Majett, hosted a rat summit at the Columbia Heights Recreation Center at 1480 Girard Street, NW. The summit began at 10 a.m. and wrapped up shortly after noon. It was an excellent opportunity for residents to learn more about reducing rat populations, current trends, and ask District officials about specific problem areas.

The featured speaker was Dr. Robert Corrigan, a noted authority on rodent control, especially knowledgeable on rats. His presentation was both informative and interesting. Corrigan was especially helpful as he presented factual information based on years of research and scientific data.

One item that I found to be of particular interest for residents in the Park View area was the relationship between feral cats and rat populations. It was clearly presented that the belief that having cats in the community will help control rodents is a myth! It is a scientific fact – proven at least 20 years ago – that feral cat colonies do not reduce rat populations. Few cats will challenge a rat. Although some cats hunt for mice, many cats tolerate rats or mice, especially when they are well-fed. It could be said that more rats and mice have been fed by cat food than killed by a cat. Director Howland was particularly emphatic that it is illegal to leave cat food out in an uncontrolled manner – including in public alleys.

Among other details learned at the summit were:

  • We have had a decade of mild winters, and this has resulted in larger rat populations. Sever winters stress rat populations and reduce populations with younger or weaker rats perishing;
  • A rat’s home range is from 90 to 450 feet in Washington. The range depends on the availability of food. This range is not only horizontally, but also up and down;
  • Rats will eat dog feces – in fact, they like it. It is imperative for pet owners to clean up after their pets;
  • Rats are known to carry 55 different diseases that they can transmit to humans;
  • While poison is effective, it should be considered the last option to get rid of rats. Baiting for rats is no substitute for good sanitation;
  • A rat will typically live 6 months to a year;
  • When landscaping a property, it is best to plant shrubs that are vase shaped with few low branches or growth. Rats have long hairs above their eyes, and when they come in contact with foliage, a rat will instinctively begin to dig creating a burrow;
  • Rat’s incisors (the front teeth) are hard — harder than iron, platinum and copper. Measured on the Mohs hardness scale, the rat’s lower incisors rank 5.5 (diamond is a 10). Human enemel is not quite this hard, measuring 5 on the Mohs hardness scale. This is why a rat can, and will, gnaw through trash cans and water pipes to get to food when they smell is.

Leading up to Dr. Corrigan’s presentation, Director Howland informed the assembly that by June of 2014 all of our trash and recycling cans will be replaced on a city-wide basis. Currently, the city will repair broken trash can lids and wheels for free (call 311), but damaged trash can bodies are only replaced with payment of a $45 replacement fee. It is good news that all containers will be replaced within the year.

Councilmember Graham specifically asked about construction and how it related to disturbing rat populations. Director Majett, during his presentation, shared that only raze permits alert the Department of Health to inspect a property, and bait it, prior to building activity. Thus, other construction activities will disturb rat populations and cause them to seek other locations. However, Corrigan noted that this disturbance of rat population only occurs with properties that already have an infestation problem. Thus, returning the discussion to the absolute necessity of having good sanitation.

Lastly, clean alleys and neighborhoods that practice good sanitation will stress a rat population by reducing the amount of food available. When rats are stressed, they live shorter lives and have been known to attack each other. By residents, businesses, and the city all doing their part, they can go a long way in decreasing the number of rats in the District.

Answering community questions during Director Howland's presentation.

Answering community questions during Director Howland’s presentation.

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15 Comments on “Overview of the Ward 1 Rat Summit”

  1. Amanda Says:

    Kent, did they discuss at all how to also manage the feral cat population? This seems to have skyrocketed in Park View, but it’s unclear who we should call to try and help fix the problem.

    • Kent Says:

      I’ve asked for more information on feral cats. We recently had a member of the humane society speak at a community meeting, but no, managing the feral cat population has not been addressed to my satisfaction.

  2. Angry Parakeet Says:

    I’ve noticed an uptick in cat numbers, too. Pretty maddening seeing that woman in the Jeep SUV surrounded by feral cats as she puts food out for them in the alley between Kenyon and Irving. They are NOT spayed and neutered based on the shrieking mating yowls I’ve been hearing.

  3. park volunteer Says:

    Good report. Rodentologist specifically talked about how rats love grease from restaurant dumpsters. DC city codes required for cleaning dumpsters not made clear.

    Also, expert said NYC has strict pooper scooper laws, and garbage pick up 3x (?) a day. Dog walkers bag, drop into city containers – then it gets picked up – as opposed to sitting in open garbage bins for days on end.

  4. Marcus Troy Says:

    The woman that drives through the Park View Alleys in the Blue Ford Escape, DC Tag CS-0969 is Susan Wallace. DOH and MPD have both contacted her and told to CEASE all activity in the alleys of Park View and Petworth. If you see her, CALL THE POLICE and report her.

    Scott Giacoppo V.P. External Affairs of the Washington Humane Society has stated, “Ms. Wallace is not acting on behalf of the Washington Humane Society in these activities.”

    Brianna Brumbaugh of Alley Cat Allies has stated, “she is not employed or delegated by Alley Cat Allies.”

    DOH has interviewed Ms. Wallace and told her that she needs to follow the Municipal Regulations for cat feeding which instructs that the food must be placed out, supervised and properly disposed of after the cats have fed. Ms. Wallace claims to be doing this.

    Inspector Medina of MPD stated, “Sergeant Jason Gulley contacted her and reminded her against feeding alley cats in your neighborhood. Should Sergeant Gulley or officers actually see her engaged in this conduct, they will be issuing citations.”

    All of this is documented and I would be happy to share with those interested.

    Additionally, there is a petition that has been started to stop Ms. Wallace from feeding the cats in our alleys. If you wish to add your name, please contact me and I will be happy to bring it over to you.

    • louise goines Says:

      Hi, am I glad to read about you!!!

      I live next door to Dana Hubbard, one of the feral cats’ most vocal and disrespectful of the feral cat feeders.

      I have tried for years to stop her from public alley feedings, open garbage/compost areas of her back yard that are used to dump CAT FECES and litter, cats overpopulating our area, rats out of control, as well as a neighbor who intimidates any effort to stop her from feeding feral cats and prohibits city rat control inspectors to canvas the area and apply NEEDED RAT CONTROL measures!

      It seems as if the city officials are actually intimidated–she is extremely loud and dominant in any attempt to discuss these issues. Also, DC Humane officials are very aware of her efforts to feed and control the feral cat population, as are Ward 1 officials. No one wants to deal with this expanding and hazardous situation.

      Presently, I’m trying to stop her garbage-composting open areas with garbage, decayed leaves, and cat feces (dumped by her and openly used by her cats and feral ones). And again I cannot get anywhere with DCRA. Although there are a few DC gov. personnel in other departments who are sympathetic, it seems that no one has the authority to make this problem, and the potential health hazard, a priority.

      I’d be happy to work with you, and provide pictures to reinforce my concerns. It is amazing to me that the efforts to stop feral cats by attempting to stop the birth of new kittens is deemed acceptable, when the average life of a city feral cat in our neighborhoods is shortened, and often these cats experience extremely painful suffering and death! There are other solutions!

      P.S. I am an avid pound adopter, having 3 dogs and 2 inside cats.

      I look forward to hearing from you!

  5. Marcus Troy Says:

    This is dated 2009 from NIH


    The top predator in this urban ecosystem appears to have little impact on the size of the prey population…

    …and indicate that cats do not rely on rats as their predominant food, but rather scavenge many of the same resources as the rats. As reported in other studies of feral cats [10], [26] they are generalist predators and appear to have relatively little demographic impact on their target populations. In urban areas cats appear even less reliant on rats for food than in more ‘natural’ conditions.

  6. PkViewGuy Says:

    Feral cats are a certainly a problem; no question.

    But cats do kill *young* rats and mice. My kitty has killed 50+ rats over the last two years (and he eats them as well). The rat problem has basically disappeared from around our house. Guess it depends on the cat..

  7. Mark Castellino Says:

    Was there any discussion in the meeting about the requirement to put trash containers out no earlier than 6:30 pm the night before, and remove by 8 pm on collection day? In the 500-600 blocks of Irving St containers are regularly left out all week. From my observation this does three things:

    1. It attracts illegal dumping;
    2. It encourages households to be less careful in ensuring trash stays in the container, and lessens the responsibility of cleaning up spilled trash in these public spaces.
    3. It creates the potential for trash to be removed from the containers and little public spaces, either accidentally or deliberately.

    As far as I can tell, the City doesn’t seen to enforce sanitation tickets for trash containers left in public spaces, despite the DPW website stating that such fines exist.

  8. Marie Joyce Says:

    That woman who feeds the feral cats (who is very nice, BTW, if you take the time to talk with her) has taken responsibility for trapping and neutering all the cats in the alleys she visits. Before she took on this responsibility, the situation was MUCH worse — residents were running over kittens in the alleys, and the hordes of starving cats were rooting through the garbage. The situation is much better since she started doing this.

  9. […] (and am sure that I will be on and off for as long as I live in Washington). As a follow-up to the Ward 1 Rat Summit held in November, I’ve been reading up on rats, what makes them thrive, and what residents can do to reduce […]

  10. […] Academy that is scheduled for Duques Hall (see flyer below for details). This sounds a lot like the Ward 1 Rat Summit that then Councilmember Graham held back in November 2013.  Like the event scheduled for June […]

  11. […] that seems to be growing in the District. Back in November 2013, Councilmember Jim Graham hosted a Ward 1 Rat Summit as part of an education and outreach effort to help reduce our rat populations, and since that time […]

  12. […] In addition to their continually growing teeth, rats also have incredibly strong chompers. Their incisors rate a 5.5 on Mohs Hardness Scale, which is a scale used to weigh minerals. To put that into perspective, iron […]

  13. […] to the Mohs scale, which ranks minerals on a scale of 1-10 based on their hardness, rats’ teeth are a 5.5. This […]

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