Rodents plague residents

Scott Swanson

Barb Swan was visiting with her brother about a month ago at her home on the upper end of 5th Avenue when she realized they weren’t alone.

“We were enjoying the birds, which I always feed,” she said, “and he was up on the bird feeder.”

“He” was a rat, about the length of the 10-inch feeder, with a tail to match.

“I took a quick, closer look to identify what it was and, all of a sudden, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, dear,'” Swan recalled.

Down the hill on 6th Avenue, Sharon Malone says she had a visitor as well, right about the same time.

“The first one appeared under my sink, coming up from under the house,” said Malone, who’s lived at that location for more than 35 years. This is the first time she’s ever been aware of the presence of rats.

She and her husband Skip got rid of that one, but then another showed up.

“The little varmint was up there eating our grapes on our deck,” Sharon Malone said. “Except he didn’t like the skins, so he’d spit the skins out. Every morning we’d have a pile of grape skins.”

They got that one, too, she said, but now another has appeared in the grape trellis.

Butch Brown, who lives on the north end of 6th Avenue, said his neighbor’s chicken coop has attracted the rodents.

“When I shine a flashlight into that coop, they scurry all over the place,” he said. “I just saw one this morning.”

City Community Development Director Blair Larsen, whose department includes code enforcement, said Code Enforcement Officer Ethan Rowe is investigating two complaints, one from the 900 block of 6th Avenue and another on 7th.

Larsen said that if a caller can identify a possible source of an infestation, “evidence that backs up an inspection,” the code enforcement officer can check it out and possibly take action. The code compliance desk can be reached at (541) 818-8043.

Swan said her son, who lives in Portland, brought her some homemade bucket traps, which essentially are five-gallon buckets with peanut butter jars or cans mounted on a wire at the mouth. When a rodent jumps onto the bait – peanut butter or other tasty morsels smeared on a jar or can, the jar/can spins and the intruder falls into water filling the lower half of the bucket and drowns.

Swan said she’s killed at least 10 rats so far.

“All sizes.”

She also called in some help, Archie Hillsman of Lebanon, who offers the services of his rat terriers in searching out rodents.

Hillsman said his dog didn’t actually locate any when they visited, but he thinks Swan’s visitors are coming from a neighbor’s garage, which is filled with stored items. He said he didn’t consider Swan’s situation a “rat problem yet.”

“Everybody has a rat now and then,” Hillsman said.

But, he added, rats tend to move around and they can find what they’re looking for.

“The thing is, a rat has a heck of a nose on it. If you start feeding grain products, or if you’ve got garbage – something like that, they can smell it from a mile away,” he said, acknowledging that “a mile” might be “a little bit” of an exaggeration.

But not much, he added.

“They’ll just move from one garbage pile to the next. Chicken feed is a major attraction.”

He said Swan’s bird feeder is an obvious attractant and he suspects that the rats are “just passing through” and stopping in for some goodies.

“If you’ve got a rat problem, you’ll see holes where they’re digging in, like under a chicken coop,” Hillsman said.

Malone said she’s also seen “an influx of mice – our cat got six of them. We’ve had cats for years and our cat might get one a year.”

Her neighbor has also had problems with rats eating cucumbers in their garden, and one got into the house, Malone said.

“They have a doggie door, and it went right in. Also, our pastor, Father Fred, opened his door (in the parsonage at St. Helen Catholic Church on 5th Avenue) one morning and a big one ran right by him, into the house.”

She said she suspects that clutter in neighboring homes might be contributing to the issue.

It’s deplorable, some of the homes, Malone said, adding that a neighboring garage is “jam-packed with garbage” after a renter moved out.

“He never put garbage out, either,” she added, “so guess where it’s at.”

Hillsman said his dogs enjoy hunting rats and it’s become kind of a hobby for him, though he may charge to cover costs. He said people interested in contacting him can do so by emailing [email protected].