Residents Share Horror Stories of Rats, Town Looking for Solutions

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Watertown Department of Public Works

The Watertown Department of Public Works built and will put out "Rat Hotels" like this one in areas where rats have been seen.

The Watertown Department of Public Works built and will put out "Rat Hotels" like this one in areas where rats have been seen.

Watertown Department of Public Works

The Watertown Department of Public Works built and will put out “Rat Hotels” like this one in areas where rats have been seen.

A packed room of worried and upset residents packed the Coolidge Apartments Auditorium Thursday night to share horror stories about rats in the the East End of Watertown and push town officials to solve the sudden influx of rodents.

Several of the 50 plus people at the community meeting said they had seen rats themselves, and many others have neighbors who spotted the critters.


Maplewood Street resident Vahe Kebabjian got an up close look at some rats.

“Saturday morning I was mowing the lawn and boom, there was one. It jumped three feet in the air,” Kebabjian said. “My son killed it.”

Like others in the room, Kebabjian called the town’s Health Department about the rat problem, but he has yet to get a call back.

“This is impacting our lives,” Kebabjian said. “We are scared to go in our backyard without a rat coming out.”

Caitlin Oates said she has spotted some a number around her neighborhood.

“I’m walking my dog at dusk and dawn and I’m seeing them,” Oates said. “There should be something the town can do.”

Some residents at the meeting put out their own sticky traps and one reported catching six rats in one night, and another hired a pest control company, which caught a dozen.

Rats on Private Property

Many residents asked why the town or the state was not helping control the pests in their yards.

While the state and the town can make efforts on public property, they cannot go onto private property to control, said Department of Public Works Superintendent Gerald Mee. The bait used by pest control firms is a controlled substance, he noted.

“The town can’t supply a box with a bait that is a controlled substance,” Mee said. “It needs to be done by a licensed professional. It is a liability issue.”

Kristel Bennett, the Health Department’s Chief Environmental Officer, said the Health Department has looked at properties where rats have been reported, but only from the street. Town officials need the permission of residents to go onto their property, she said, and if rats are found then she must send out a order for the resident to clean up the problem at their own expense.

Many residents were upset that they would be on the hook for the rat control, and several said they should not have to pay for a problem that was not of their making.

Long tim East End resident Paul Derboghosian said rats have not been a problem in his lifetime, but now he suspects the construction projects have caused the problem.

“Those issues should have been anticipated. It is our first rodeo but not (the developers’) first one,” he said. “(The town) made concessions to (developers) but you also have to make concessions to these people and me. We’re the people left behind.”

The Mass. Department of Transportation (DOT), which is overseeing the reconstruction of Belmont Street, and the town have tried to tackle the rat situation.

Mee showed the residents a picture of a “Rat Hotel” – a black box with rat bait and a trap inside. Three have been built and will be put out over the next few days, and three more will be built, Mee said.

Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis, who represents the area, first heard of rat problems in May, but the complaints increased. In late June, the DPW contacted the Mass. DOT – which is in charge of the Belmont Street project – about a problem between Marion Road and Oxford Avenue, according to an email from the DOT to Kounelis. Rat control measures were put in place on July 9, and after a meeting between the DOT and the DPW, the DOT agreed to make more efforts to control the rats.

The Cause

The Eastside of town has had a couple of major projects under construction, including the CVS at Mt. Auburn Street and Mt. Auburn Street and the reconstruction of Belmont Street. These might have disturbed areas where rats lived.

Bennett said she oversaw the demolition of the CVS site for the Health Department and said there the pest control contractor did not find any evidence of rats. The property was treated rats before and during demolition, she added.

The area around the reconstruction of Belmont Street, however, was not treated before work began, said Kounelis. She said the Town of Belmont has also had problems with an increase in rats around the Belmont Street area.

Also at the meeting was Rick Pollack, a Public Health Zoologist, who works on pest control at Harvard University. He had information on the behavior of rats, and said people often have misconceptions about rats.

“I am fairly certain rats have been here as long as we have been here,” Pollack said.

He said rats’ range is rarely more than a few hundred feet. He said while the construction may have an impact on the rats coming out, he suspects other factors are also at play.

Back yards can provide a comfortable home for rats, he said.

“Gardens are great but you are growing food and animals like that food,” Pollack said. “Rats will also burrow into compost piles.”

When people plant ground cover and bushes right against a fence, that provides a “highway for rats,” Pollack said.

He also confirmed that rats can jump 3 to 4 feet high without a running start.

If residents see a rat, Bennett said they can report it to the Health Department at 617-972-6446 – select the Environmental Health Officer from the phone menu. Or, residents can go to the Request for Service section on the Town of Watertown website (click here) and select Miscellaneous under Health Department.

The town will send out email updates on the rat control effort on the town’s Notify Me feature on the Town website (click here for the link) and sign up for the Health Department updates, said Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon.

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