Town outlines options to combat rat problems

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North Attleborough Town Hall

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

Since last summer, there’s been one word on the minds of many North Attleborough residents—rats.

Specifically, the many rats seen in dumpsters, basements, and in burrows around town. Many have gone to Town Hall seeking an answer, and at a forum held on June 16, they received some.

Town Manager Michael Borg, along with Health Director Anne Marie Fleming, Animal Control Officer Felicia Camara, and Health Agent Sheri Miller-Bedau took questions from residents and offered some new ideas about how to humanely reduce the rat population. Poisons are a common tactic to eliminate rats, but many have a side effect called secondary poisoning. If a dog, cat, or fox were to try to eat or bite the rodent, they too can become sick or die.

Camara demonstrated two different kinds of humane rodent traps, both of which contain the animal without killing it. One was a small metal cage that snaps shut when the rat enters to get the bait (birdseed was suggested as a food likely to lure in the rat). Another was made of plastic and looks similar to a bucket. The rats go up a small ramp to the top of the trap, fall in, and are unable to get out. Camara cautioned people against drowning the rats, as that is against the law in Massachusetts.

Once trapped, Camara said the rats can be brought to the North Attleborough Animal Shelter to be disposed of. She added that these traps can be bought online, and the town is giving away free ones.

These are all inexpensive ways you can help deter our little friends to go back into the wild and leave our homes alone,” said Camara.

The causes for the rats are numerous, including mild winters, a lack of predators, and the shutdown of restaurants during the early days of the pandemic. This eliminated a major food source for the rats—dumpsters with old food—and forced them to find a new one. Fleming said that in 2020, there were two complaints of rats, and 24 in 2021. Thus far, 57 sightings have been called in to the Board of Health this year.

The way the rats populate, they expand,” said Fleming. “If you see two rats, pretty soon you’re going to have a family.”

Information is another way the town is helping residents. Since June 2021, the health department and Animal Control have done surveys and created a brochure with ways homeowners can make their properties less appealing to rodents. Notifications have been sent to homes and businesses with dumpsters, expressing the importance that they be properly secured, and future mailings are planned.

Our role is to inform, educate, inspect, but not exterminate,” said Fleming. “We leave that to the homeowners.”

North Attleborough has a contract with Waste Management for ‘Pay As You Through’ trash disposal, along with recycling, and refuse can be attractive to rats. Trash toters aren’t required in the town, and Borg has seen several bags chewed open by animals. Camara suggested purchasing trash bags with a mint scent, as this disables the rat’s sense of smell and causes it to leave the area.

Borg said the town is looking into finding a new trash contract, possibly with toters included, though this would cost the town approximately $500,000. He said that sending town employees to get rid of the rats is simply not an option.

We’ve been tracking the source of complaints and finding hot spots,” said Borg. “The truth is, it will take all of us together to solve this problem.”