Dead rat

This rat was found dead in Barbara Manning’s Westwood neighborhood before being thrown in the trash.

When her dog started bringing dead rats to her backdoor, Barbara Manning grew concerned. She’s lived in her Westwood neighborhood for 45 years, but she’s never noticed a problem with rats until this summer.

“It’s gross,” she said. The rats in her yard aren’t what she’s upset about, though, it’s that she suspects they’ve been poisoned.

Manning’s 8-year-old Yorkie started bringing rat corpses to her toward the end of July. After that, Manning and her husband continued to find dead rats in the yard. They didn’t have any injuries and they didn’t look sick, she said.

Not only does she think poisoning the rats is inhumane, she’s worried that her dog and other animals or even children are being exposed to secondary poisoning.

“It’s sad if somebody loses their pet,” she said. “I’d be devastated.”

Manning said she doesn’t blame her neighbors for wanting to get rid of the rats, but says poisoning isn’t the way. Her husband has been using an electronic rat trap, she said.

“It’s much more humane just to zap ‘em … it’s just a shock and they’re dead.”

Napa resident Rusty Cohn advocates using these traps, too. Although he hasn’t seen any dead rats around like Manning, he said that he gets some rats in his house every few years.

“You just have to catch ‘em,” he said. “I caught one so far.”

Cohn recently posted some information about electronic rat traps on the social media site Nextdoor.

“If you are hearing that ‘oh no’ sound in your walls or attic don’t panic just get a electronic rat zapor,” Cohn says in his post. “No poisons to worry about your pets or poisoning wildlife, no worry about rats going to die in places where you can’t find them but can smell them.”

Cohn said he posted the information in order to steer people away from using poisoned bait traps, which can lead to poisoned wildlife, including owls.

Many rodenticides, including some d-CON mouse and rat control products, have been taken off the market in order to prevent secondary poisoning, said Justin Hovan, owner of Hovan Pest Control in Napa.

“Homeowners tend to not use products correctly,” Hovan said, leaving them out where animals and children can access it. People would just scatter it everywhere and a neighborhood cat could easily jump over the fence and get at it, he said.

If pets or wild animals eat poisoned rodents, then those animals will also be poisoned, according to the California Department of Fish & Wildlife website.

A dozen d-CON products were canceled in 2014 for not meeting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, according to the Environmental Protection Agency website. Production stopped in December 2014 and distribution stopped in March 2015.

All 12 products were sold without protective bait stations, which are required for consumer products in order to protect children and pets from contact with the bait pellets. Eight of the cancelled products also contained second generation anticoagulant pesticides that posed risks to non-target wildlife.

“It used to be anyone could get any kind of rat bait,” but now you have to be licensed to get certain ones, Hovan said.

When he’s called out to a rat problem at a home, he chooses the best method depending on the situation, he said. He’ll use bait stations, snap traps, and live traps in addition to doing exclusion work in order to prevent rats from getting into the house. For a dog to get sick from the bait he uses, he said, it would have to eat a lot of rats.

The Napa County Mosquito Abatement District, which provides residents with rodent inspection, advice, and disease surveillance, encourages people not to use bait for rodents, said Director Wes Maffei.

It’s not illegal, though, so if you’re going to use baiting, Maffei says you need to do surveillance and pick up the dead animals so other animals don’t eat them.

Maffei said that one of the best ways to prevent rodent infestations is to keep things clean.

“If there’s nothing available for them (to eat) they’ll go somewhere else,” he said. “Good sanitation goes a long way to minimize rodent problems.”

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Maria Sestito is the former Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She now writes for the Register as a freelancer.