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Calling the Pied Piper: Rats invade Petaluma


Many nights this summer, Kristen Joyce has heard what sounds like thunder inside the walls of her home.

She’s not enjoying the gentle pattering of rain from a seasonal storm, but is instead shuddering as rats run incessantly along pipes inside the walls of her west Petaluma house. Though she’s seen an occasional rodent since she moved in 2012, she’s been faced with an infestation in the past few weeks, she said.

It’s been a painful coexistence for Joyce, her 3-year-old daughter and the unwelcome rodents, who announced their presence by pillaging her kitchen and leaving half eaten produce and fruit on the floor, she said.

“They’re terrorizing me,” she said, adding that she’s hired an exterminator and found five rats in traps in the past two weeks.

Joyce isn’t the only one plagued by a pandemic of pests, and a host of residents have taken to social media to lament their rodent woes, describing rats stealing fruit from trees, scurrying along power lines and lurking under bathtubs in homes across the city.

Tom McCarthy, an east side resident, said renegade rodents crashed his Fourth of July celebration.

“While we were sitting outside, they were running in the twilight across the fence,” he said. “It was pretty unsettling.”

Taking matters into his own hands, he’s trapped at least five rats while also using natural remedies, including peppermint soaked cotton balls, to repel the pests.

Erick Blandino, who owns and operates Petaluma-based Rat Exclusion Service, said he’s been swamped with between six and eight calls a week from Petaluma residents struggling with rodents. Rats usually cause more problems in the winter when they’re seeking refuge from the elements, but he said business has been booming year-round.

“Summertime is the lower season but for the last two years, the business in the summer hasn’t stopped – the business continues to keep going and there’s an influx coming in,” he said.

He said disturbances from a bump in construction around the city and the changing weather conditions stemming from the drought are likely causing the spike.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s slowing down,” he said.

Dan St. John, Petaluma’s director of public works and utilities, said his staff only handles pest and rodent control in city-owned buildings. Officials haven’t seen an uptick in rodent activity that can’t be attributed to seasonal and climactic factors, he said.

Nizza Sequeira, the public relations director for the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District, said her agency gives free inspections and advice to those struggling with rats, though extermination services aren’t offered.

This year, the rodent control specialist has received seven requests for inspections in Petaluma, though he’s fielded more than 100 calls for advice from around Sonoma County, she said. To combat the issue, Sequeira advised residents to be proactive.

“Take a look around your yard and see if there’s anything that’s going to attract rodents – fallen fruit on the ground … unattended pet food, don’t leave that outside. You want to trim plants, especially any types of trees or branches that are close to your home. Rodents can hop from trees to the roof. Store wood at least 18 inches off the ground at least a foot anyway from any structure,” she said.

She said to be aware of signs of rats, which could include scratching sounds, droppings, gnaw marks and black smudges along baseboards from rodent’s greasy coats. If proper measures are taken, relief could be on the way, she said.

“Make sure to get the rodents out of the house and properly seal up all the entry points,” she said. “Rats can get in through a hole the size of a quarter – remove anything attractive to rodents. If there’s nothing there they need or want, they’ll just move on.”

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com.)