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Why Are There So Many Rats in Seattle?

Learn why reported signs of rats in Seattle are twice the national average.

October 19, 2016

Seattle has a rat problem. Households here reported signs of rats at twice the national average, according to the 2013 American Housing survey. That’s meant good business for Adam Truitt, owner of Pest Fighter.

“It’s been absolutely crazy lately. Today I got 10 calls,” Truitt said as he and his trusty sidekick, a yorkiepoo named Olive, prepared to hunt rats.

So why all the rats?

Truitt suggested we meet in the alley behind the University Book Store to discuss.

When we meet, it’s 9:30 p.m. and dark out. Students laugh and call to one another on the street nearby. Food and trash spills from Dumpsters next to us. It reeks.

The main reason for all the rats? Us. More people living in cities means more trash and food waste.

“It’s like a buffet for the rodents. It’s all over town. All you gotta do is drive around at 9:30 at night and you’ll see rats running around everywhere,” Truitt says.  

Over the past few weeks, Truitt has come here most nights with a pellet gun and shot close to 50 rats in this alley. When he does home visits to remove rats, he uses traps and poison. But he says with an infestation this bad, the pellet gun is the fastest and most humane way to deal with the problem. The King County Department of Health agrees.

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With tens of thousands of people moving to the Puget Sound region every year, construction in the city of Seattle has been booming.

Old houses or rundown, abandoned properties are popular rat hangouts or “reservoirs of rats” as Munshi-South calls them. When those buildings are torn down, there’s a rat exodus. Then they’ll try to colonize other homes in the neighborhood.

Listeners share their best (and worst) Seattle rat stories

“It can be difficult because it only takes one property on a neighborhood scale to be the source or reservoir of rats,” Munshi-South said.  

Back in the alley in Seattle’s University District, there’s little movement. Truitt gets on his hands and knees with his pellet gun at the ready.

Suddenly, a large black Norway rat scurries out. Hearing a reporter’s squeal, the rat changes course and ducks into a hole in the concrete.

“Pop!” goes Truitt’s pellet gun. We can’t see into the hole but he believes the rat is dead. Truitt says it’s taken a few weeks to get this alley under control.

“When we first got here, they were everywhere. Every time I turned my head there was another one … and now it seems like there’s the same three or four running around.”

How well do you know rats? Take the KUOW/Local Wonder Quiz

He packs his pellet gun and returns to his truck where yorkiepoo Olive waits.

Truitt says the best way to keep rats out of your house is to seal up all the holes – even the little ones. A full grown rat can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter. And to keep your compost covered and your trash tidy and out of reach of rodents.

Business for Truitt will most likely keep booming. Between climate change, construction, lots of green space and more people and trash – Seattle’s future looks ratty.

This story was inspired by a question from Susan Roxborough of Green Lake. Submit your local wonder about the Puget Sound region. If your question is chosen a KUOW reporter will investigate it.
 


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A Norway rat on exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Zoo.

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