Summertime in San Francisco is the time for fog, visitors and barbeques. After an evening of grilling I noticed that the motion sensing light on the deck was flickering. The fixture was replaced. The next morning, I reviewed my security cameras to see if the new light’s settings were correct. To my amazement I saw rats. Several rats were working the yard and deck dining on anything that had been dropped.

Rattus rattus, the house rat, or as I now refer to them; The Genius Rats of the Mission must be eradicated. They are called “selective generalists” because they will eat about anything. I was reminded of the line in Ratatoullie  where Remy asked his cousin Emile “Just, what are you eating?” Emile’s reply was, “You know, I’m really not sure but after you get past the gag reflex a whole new world is opened.” In fact these guys prefer things like citrus, seeds, fruit, snails, but best of all pet food.

Rattus rattus got blamed for the bubonic plague in Europe.  Actually, the fleas from the giant gerbil that worked the same habitat probably communicated the disease. My strategy was to first put out bits of cheddar cheese and no traps. As predicted, the night marauders gobbled up every piece. The next night I put an equal amount out but some pieces were placed in finger crushing snap traps. Mission rats are smart rats. The snap traps were avoided but the rest of the cheese was eaten with glee.

I reviewed different methods of eradication. Glue boards appeared to be the absolute worst. The rats get stuck and struggle for freedom until they die. Glue was out. Then I considered poison. Nifty little containers with poison tucked inside make sure only the rats eat the bait. The problem here is that the poisoned rat seeks shelter, die and decomposes. Sometimes pets or raptors eat the weakened rats and are in turn poisoned.  Poison was out. The only quick solution was a snap trap. But, the rats avoided them like the plague. (Yes that was a sick pun.)

I called my brother who spent his working life as a game warden for the State of California. He said, “Throw the traps away.” “But Tom they are brand new. Never been snapped” I replied. He said, “Throw them away and get some new traps. Wash your hands to the elbows and put on gloves. Set the traps and perhaps the rats won’t smell you.” It seems that Rattus rattus has lousy eyesight but can smell a fart from two blocks away. I followed the warden’s instructions. No luck.

I turned to the Internet and found the perfect solution. An electronic trap. Four D cell batteries that load a capacitor. When the rat steps on the two plates they complete the circuit. Zap 10,000 volts and they win a quick clean trip to nirvana. I ordered a Raticator Max on Internet.  When the Raticator arrived it was handled like plutonium. I followed the instructions carefully. “Don’t stick your hand in the trap to test!” the instructions implored. Of course, the caution made sticking my hand into the zone even more appealing. I resisted. The results, Rats – 1. Raticator – 0.

I used my security camera and a “Critter Cam” for details. Both use infrared to illuminate the goings on. The rats besides having horrible eyesight are red green colorblind. They can’t sense that the cameras are lighting them up. That made no difference, a keen sense of smell and cunning allowed them to avoid all the traps.

Disheartened, I cleaned up the back yard and deck. I felt that I had failed. But I found that as soon as the cheese fragments, breadcrumbs, and corn chip flakes were gone, so were the rats.

No food – no rats because Mission Rats are Smart rats.

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George Lipp

George Lipp has long lived in the Mission. He’s our volunteer extraordinaire – always out taking photos or running across crimes in progress.

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  1. Wait – If the rats are avoiding your “human smell” wouldn’t they avoid the the cheese you set out too?

      1. I love your video! A few years ago I had rats in my school garden on Treat St. eating our early girl tomatoes. Using snap traps baited with peanut butter and a little piece of Reese’s peanut butter cup on the top, I caught four over a few weekends. Be patient and persistent because the rat is relentless. Good luck.