how to catch a rat

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The Independent Culture
Last week I saw the splattered remains of one at the end of my road. All the scare stories were true. Not only do they now outnumber us, but there is one within 6ft of every human - enough to persuade me, at least, that there might be a rat living in the cellar.

It is a busy time for the pest control services who have to respond to a 39 per cent rise in rat infestations caused mainly by mild winters and council cutbacks on pest control. Nearly five per cent of homes now house a family of rodents. Rentokil's Martin Pearce doesn't look like a ratcatcher, but with 16 years of pest control behind him, and his team of 16 technicians working around the clock to combat rattus norvegicus, he's the Pied Piper incarnate.

"We apply the 'ERD' principle," he says in corporate speak. This stands for exclusion, restriction and destruction. "First you have to stop rats from coming in, so check for broken airbricks, gaps in the doors or the intersector cap in the drainage system. If you can fit a biro or a finger through a hole, then a young rat can also get through."

"Find out why they are running around in the garden," he continues. "Are you putting bread out for the birds? Or not putting your rubbish bags in the dustbin? Is there a lot of litter in your street?" These questions should clearly be answered 'No' if you are to stand any chance against the current rat invasion.

"All they want is food, shelter and warmth, which our homes offer in abundance," says Pearce. Fine, but what can we do once the horrors are inside?

"The quickest way of dealing with a rat is to hit it with a stick, but because of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act you can't cause a rat any pain or suffering, so we tend to use anticoagulant poisons which take several feeds to kill them. A pesticide which kills in one feed may be a risk to children or other domestic animals. Another problem is that the rats may not take a lethal dose and, much like us going out for a bad curry, they won't go back again a second time. We have to make our bait attractive to the rat."

But news is that the new breed of city rats are harder than a tattooed Glaswegian paratrooper, and once-reliable pesticides like Warfarin are no longer effective, forcing the laboratories to come up with more potent anticoagulants which are unlikely to be available at the local pet shop.

"As a last resort you can use box traps to catch them alive, because not everybody wants to kill a rat themselves," suggests Pearce. "Break- back traps [the ones normally associated with mice] don't generally work because you tend to kill just the odd straggler."

Nor is handling them recommended, unless of course you have a life insurance policy. "They can bite if you pick them up, which could be fatal as they often carry Weils disease, a bacteria carried in rats urine. The people most at risk from this are farmers or people in the building trade.

Before I can put an emphatic imaginary cross next to each of the aforementioned categories, he recounts a recent incident in which a hysterical woman caller encountered a rat swimming upwards through the toilet bowl that she had just been using. Another customer, a psychiatrist as it happens, had destroyed several rats, which had burrowed under the floorboards, with rat poison, but had made the mistake of first blocking the exterior holes so the rats could not get out. The result? Irretrievable rotting rat carcasses. "The house absolutely stank for weeks - they've got quite a lot of meat on them have rats," Pearce adds knowingly.

Better start by checking those holes behind the skirting board, cover those dustbins, seal the water pipes and tidy the cellar.

Rentokil offers an initial free survey to all customers. For information telephone (01342 833022)