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The Rat Academy


WORLD Radio - The Rat Academy

People looking to rid their homes and businesses of rodents meet in Washington D.C. for an unusual conference

Associated Press/Photo by Julie Jacobson

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, August 17th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re so glad you are. Good morning! I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: pest control.

Myrna, you like animals, right?

BROWN: Well, depends on the animal.

REICHARD: What about one that’s brown, has a long tail, mainly comes out at night? Oh, and it loves garbage.

BROWN: Are we talking about what I think we’re talking about?

REICHARD: Yep, rats! You know they can be a real nuisance, especially in big cities. One city is fighting back by training people on the latest in rodent control practices. WORLD Associate Correspondent Jeff Palomino visited Washington, DC’s “Rat Academy” and brings this report.

SOUND: [Event check-in]

JEFF PALOMINO, REPORTER: A conference is about to begin at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. A crowd of more than 80 people gathers at registration. They check in, get lanyard name tags and make their way to seats in the Student Center Grand Ballroom.

EMCEE: So, good morning everybody. So, y’all ready to talk about some rats?

This is the District of Columbia Rodent Control Academy. It’s for DC residents and business owners, and it promises practical tips and techniques to fight…rats. But, if you think fighting rats is as simple as putting out a little peanut butter or poison traps, think again. Rodent control, especially in large cities, is a complex science that also requires the skills of a detective.

EMCEE: And so, without further ado, Dr. Bobby Corrigan. (CLAPPING)

Dr. Bobby Corrigan makes his way to the stage.

CORRIGAN: Okay, good morning everybody.

Corrigan is an urban rodentologist, a scientist who studies just the rats and mice of cities. He starts Rat Academy session one with a picture.

CORRIGAN: Of course, everybody knows this dude, right? The number one rat in DC and northeastern sector is the Norway rat here, also known as the brown rat. In fact, even just a couple blocks, we could find this guy tonight if we wished to.

Rats are small, nocturnal, surprisingly intelligent rodents. They want basically what we want in life: Food and safety.

CORRIGAN: Day to day, what they ultimately are hard-drived for is to reproduce. And they do it very well. And they have to sustain a mammal body. So they want good food. And when they're done eating, they want to live in a place where they can, I’ll use an anthropomorphic term, they can relax, where they actually can chill and say, I can go to sleep now without worry.

But rats can carry and transmit disease. So they’re unacceptable neighbors to humans. Natasha Smith is a General Manager for Shake Shack. If you ask her where she’s seen rats in DC, the short answer is just about everywhere.

SMITH: On the sidewalk, in the alleys, trash cans, things like that. They just, you know, they're very bold out here.

Lyn Chambers manages a Whole Foods. What’s his view of rats?

CHAMBERS: (chuckles) Now that I've learned so much about them, I mean, they're worse than dinosaurs. They're dirty little creatures.

Ascelo Fita is a health inspector. When it comes to rats, he doesn't mince words.

FITA: When I'm thinking of rats, I think like enemies of humans. For me, personally, I'm scared of seeing rats. So you always think of something bad.

So what can people do about rats? Here’s Bobby Corrigan again.

CORRIGAN: Trash is number one. It's very simple, but again, very complex at the same time. No food means no rats.

Once rats learn the places that are repeatedly dependable for food, they begin an all-out assault in an effort to occupy the property. This leads to step two—exclusion.

CORRIGAN: Most rodents enter a building through doors. And so the first thing you need to do is look at the doors, look at the door base.

Rats can fit through holes the size of a quarter, so test any openings you see.

CORRIGAN: Just take a number two yellow pencil, roll it beneath your doors. If that pencil rolls beneath the door a rat can get in. So that's critical.

At some point, though, you may have to think about poisons and traps. But be careful.

CORRIGAN: The problem is without training, most homeowners are not equipped, especially with rats to use rat traps and rat poisons. And for the most part, those should stay in the realm of pest professionals.

As the morning session comes to an end, Corrigan has attendees put what they’ve learned to the test.

CORRIGAN: But I took these pictures.

He puts up a series of pictures. A high end apartment building with a long line of bushes outside. An alleyway behind a business with a dirty dumpster. A hotel next to a restaurant with a line of shrubs and dirt between. He wants the audience to analyze the scene for things that will attract rats.

CORRIGAN: So it's the kind of thing… let's read a block or an area or business, you know, let's read an area for rodents.

This thrill of gathering evidence is one of the things that keeps Corrigan going at age 72.

CORRIGAN: I've always been this nature nerd, but I'm always interested in secrets and secretive animals. And working with urban rodent problems is very much like criminology is. What are the clues? Why are they here? So for me, it's Sherlock Holmes. Each case is different, and putting the case together and then how to solve that case. It's it's mystery that drives me.

But there’s also something else that drives him. The rat, despite all its bad press, is one important animal.

CORRIGAN: If it wasn't for the rat, for example, humanity would not have the lifespan it has, humanity would not have the enjoyment of a quality life without the rat. Because it is the rat that we have used in medical and psychological studies. And by learning what we can do or not do to rats, we've learned what we can and cannot do to the human body and to the human psyche. So as crazy as it sounds, if the rats would just stay away from trying to invade us. It's an animal above all other animals, whales and dogs and cats and all other animals combined. That we owe the greatest thanks…

The morning session of Rat Academy day one is over.

CORRIGAN: That's where we are. Okay, let's take our break.

I can tell the session has already made an impression. I know this because I think twice about throwing the greasy wrapper from my cuban sandwich and my half eaten bag of chips into the open trash can on the street. Maybe there’s a better place for my trash—one that won’t lay out a welcome mat for DC’s most hated and apparently most needed residents.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jeff Palomino in Washington, D.C.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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