Suffolk County

Why so many rats these days? Growing number of Mass. communities being overrun by pesky rodents

BROOKLINE, Mass. — Rats carry diseases and disgust many of us.

What’s troubling is the rat population is exploding in many communities around the state.

These pesky rodents can cause extensive damage to a home, or a car if they crawl up under the hood.

One Boston City Councilor told Boston 25 News rats are the number one reason residents reach out to her office.

Fran Perler has had to turn her Brookline home into a fortress to keep this unwanted company out.

She has spent about $4,000 to put in exclusion barriers to keep rats out. The retired scientist saved money by doing much of the back breaking work on her own. She says it easily could have cost more than $20,000 otherwise.

Her entire neighborhood is dealing with a surging population of rats. “My 89-year-old neighbor went to their first floor toilet and a rat had come up through the sewer.”

Perler has collected more than 1,000 signatures to try and get the town to increase its response to all these rodents.

“This is a problem larger than Brookline,” said Perler. “It’s all over Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, and Newton.”

Communities like Worcester and Lowell have also had to deal with this issue. In Plymouth, an elementary school was overrun with vermin.

Construction can be one reason rates migrate.

The pandemic might also have played a role.

“Because of COVID people are home and we’re generating more garbage,” explained Perler. “A lot of apartment buildings and housing haven’t kept up with the equipment to manage their solid waste so even if they do have somewhat rodent proof containers, they’re overflowing and are easy entry for rats.”

Rats are constantly searching for easy access to food.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, when many restaurants closed, the rats which had been feeding off food behind the restaurants went into residential neighborhoods,” said Heidi Ricci of the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

She says homeowners can make their property less inviting to rodents by “using rodent proof trash containers and otherwise making sure there are no food sources available. The second thing would be to make sure that foundations are sealed.”

The Audubon Society says residents should not try to poison rats.

Those substances can cause a rat to die slowly, often out in the open, making them easy prey for owls, hawks, and foxes.

“These chemicals do not break down quickly, so they remain in the body of the rodent. When the predator consumes the rodent, it is secondarily poisoned and can die from that. This has happened even with a couple of bald eagles in recent years,” said Ricci.

Braintree town councilor Elizabeth Maglio wants to stop the problem before it gets out of hand.

She’s proposing a birth control program to stop rats from procreating so rapidly. “This is a very affordable, non-toxic, natural, humane way to prevent or at least mitigate the rat population.”

A walk around Fran Perler’s North Brookline neighborhood shows where rats have dug tunnels and residents have tried to fight back with additional fencing.

The town and area businesses have taken steps too. Some open trash cans have been replaced with enclosed receptacles and electrified chambers that lure rats in have been placed around town.

45 of these boxes are now deployed and 236 rats have been eliminated this way. The boxes also send signals back to public health officials which allows them to isolate hot spots around town.

Still, Perler says more needs to be done. “Why should one of my neighbor’s kids be afraid to go to sleep because they hear rats scratching in the bedroom walls and are afraid they’re going to come thru the wall and bite them?”

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