Rat Numbers on the Rise in Detroit Metro

Rats! Metro Detroit has more this year

Pest-control firms report increase in calls as rodents eat anything, go everywhere

Rats are more than creepy. The scavengers also pose a public health risk -- they carry diseases that can infect humans and pets

The rodents are an increasing concern in metro Detroit, where several pest-control firms say they have seen a significant rise in rat calls. The reasons are unclear, but experts suggest several culprits: abandoned properties; a push to demolish empty buildings; even a wetter-than-normal summer, leading to thicker vegetation and more hiding spaces for rodents.

Troy-based Rose Pest Solutions has logged a 36% upswing in rat calls, a trend largely driven by residential calls in Detroit and suburbs such as Grosse Pointe Farms, Roseville, Warren, St. Clair Shores, Royal Oak and Sterling Heights. And Lake Orion-based A & D Animal Control, which services Oakland County, had about a dozen rat calls this summer, compared with less than a handful in some other years, said Al Krier, owner for 37 years.

Pest experts say the rats will eat just about anything. They can chew through concrete in search of food.

They'll filch your garden vegetables or your pet food. Dog droppings? Yep, that too.

Brandon Currie, 32, of Warren holds the dead rat he caught Thursday outside his home as his son Trevor, 3, looks on. Currie works for a metro area pest-control company. Several of the pest-control firms in metro Detroit are reporting in an increase in calls about rodents this year. (KATHLEEN GALLIGAN/Detroit Free Press)

Abandoned property, slight rise in rainfall among likely causes

Already waging battle against a surge in bedbugs, several metro Detroit pest-control companies say they're now fighting another nuisance -- rats.

"We've been talking about it, trying to figure out exactly what's going on," said Mark Sheperdigian of Troy-based Rose Pest Solutions, which reported a 36% boost in rat calls -- from 157 to 213 -- through Aug. 31 this year, compared with the same time period last year.

Certainly, some pest-control companies say they have not noticed an increase in calls specifically for rats.

But others say they've not only been getting more calls overall from commercial and industrial property owners, but there has been increased concern from homeowners who have spotted the rodents darting along their fence lines, slipping in and out of nearby abandoned buildings and burrowing under everything from foundations and tree roots to hot tubs and expensive landscaping features.

"Rats tend to be a commercial-area problem. You don't get them usually in residential areas," said Ross Stevens, owners of Southfield-based Stevens Pest Control.

Detroiter Kris Stevens said she and her neighbors battled a rat problem earlier this year, even though they try to keep their yards free of debris. They asked the city to put down rat bait this summer after noticing burrows and paths along fence lines and under a tree root that had grown under some concrete.

Pest-control experts say it was the right thing to do because there's a good chance there's a colony nearby.

Many possible causes

Animal populations fluctuate from year to year, and a single factor -- disease or a killing winter, for example -- can crash those populations. But it usually takes several things to make a population surge in numbers, said Sheperdigian at Rose Pest Solutions.

Some exterminators theorize that more abandoned commercial areas, combined with a slightly rainier than usual summer and the lush vegetation that such weather brings, have given the rodents more places to hide. Or perhaps a push to demolish long-vacant buildings is scattering established colonies of rats into neighborhoods.

Plus, with tight budgets in recent years, both government and industry may be cutting back on rat-baiting.

"We've had accounts we lost because the companies went out of business," said Dean Krotchen, owner of Livonia-based Anteco, which answered 22 calls for rat control this summer, compared with 16 last summer. "We're no longer there, people are no longer there. But that doesn't mean the rats are no longer there."

But clearly, rats aren't income-specific.

Area pest-control companies say they've been called to some of the poshest and cleanest restaurants and neighborhoods in metro Detroit -- some of which sit close to vacant land. Some rats, also, are drawn to birdseed or pet food that has been left out.

Krotchen said he's currently working with a doctor who noticed signs of rats -- holes, trails -- around her otherwise clean and pest-free home.

"They don't care what you make. They want a food source and a place to hide," he said. Public health risks

Rats are usually nocturnal and avoid human contact.

Still, they are a public health risk, carrying diseases like leptospirosis, a rare bacterial infection from water that has been contaminated by animal urine. Some Macomb County veterinarians have reported that cases of the infection have been increasing among dogs.

"They're walking disease bins," said Dale Kaukeinen, who last year coauthored the Rodent Risk Report, a national assessment of 30 of the largest U.S. cities. The report ranked Detroit as 10th at risk, based on 18 factors that ranged from average rainfall to foreclosure and poverty rates to even the money put into infrastructure improvements.

The Michigan Department of Community Health has not recorded any serious human illnesses or deaths linked to rats in recent years, and it's tough to assess the population's size, said Mary Grace Stobierski, the state's public health veterinarian.

Local public health departments don't track the calls to pest control, and rat bites aren't usually reported, she said.

Plus, rats are instinctively evasive and are active mostly after dark. Many property owners don't see them, but spy their burrows or tracks instead.

But as the weather cools, rats will be even more tenacious about finding warmth and food, and they'll be looking for opportunities, said Ross Stevens of Stevens Pest Control. He recalled one job in which a suburban homeowner judged the distance wrong while pulling into his driveway. His vehicle punched a hole in the wall.

It wasn't long before he called Stevens.

"We caught about a dozen young rats in one night," Stevens said.

Source: www.freep.com

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