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A rat in the house? It may have come up from the St. Paul sewers

By James Walsh

Minneapolis Star Tribune

ST. PAUL — Ahhh, summer in St. Paul.

The pleasant hum of lawn mowers, the joyful shrieks of children at the playground. The skittering feet of rats migrating from the sewers into your house. Wait … sewer rats?!

Every summer, St. Paul Animal Control gets several complaints a day about unwelcome rats on the move from the city’s sewers to yards, gardens and even basements, said Molly Lunaris, St. Paul Animal Control supervisor. Summer and fall is their busiest time above ground, she said.

“In winter, we only get about a complaint a week,” she said. “It’s not that they hibernate. But they don’t like the cold, so they’ll stay in the sewer.”

Until something — maybe a tempting morsel or rising water after a storm — pushes them above ground.

So it was for a Dayton’s Bluff homeowner last week, who reported the appearance of several large rats in her basement. Their suspected mode of entry? Through a toilet, which the homeowners quickly taped shut. The homeowner could not be reached for comment, but Lunaris said they called Animal Control for help, prompting a crew to come out and put poisoned bait in the nearby sewers.

She encouraged anyone else in the city to do the same if such rodents show up at your next barbecue.

“Usually, rats stick to the yard, maybe raiding a dumpster,” Lunaris said. “They are opportunistic animals and, if there is an easier food source, they’ll take advantage.”

But it’s not just warmer weather that prompts sewer rats to creep into the realm of humans, said Ellen Biales, a spokeswoman for St. Paul Public Works. Things like road and sewer construction projects can disrupt rats’ normal way of life.

“Well, you’re interrupting their happy home,” she said. “Still, I would say it happens only periodically.”

Joe Loma, owner of Wildlife Management Services Inc. said that it’s more common for people to spy a rat near the garage or garbage can than in the basement.

“I think it’s unusual,” he said.

Loma said he does have a client whose city chicken coop — and chicken feed — attracts them.

“We get more calls about squirrels in homes than we do rats,” he said.

St. Paul residents are asked to call Animal Control at 651-266-1100 if they spot rats, or other unwanted wildlife, hanging around. While homeowners will need to call an exterminator to get them out once they are in the house, Lunaris said, the city will respond to complaints by putting poisoned bait in the sewers until the rat problem has dissipated.

Despite the queasiness of knowing that rats do move among us, Lunaris agreed with Loma that it’s really not the rodents’ first choice — nor that common in the grand scheme of things. Even with a summertime uptick in complaints, most rats want to stay out of humans’ way.

“There is no infestation,” she said, reassuring homeowners. “No rodent apocalypse.”