DC turns to "Tuesday Blitzes" to send Petworth rats scampering

It's not just on Halloween that rats can be scary. (photo: Peter Kaminski)

by Yuliya Panfil

In August, Mayor Muriel Bowser attended a Petworth Action Committee meeting to hear residents’ concerns. By far the biggest grievance: rats. Rats in trashcans. Rats in alleys. Rats in streets. Rats in yards.

In response, Bowser has instituted Tuesday Blitzes: weekly, multi-agency outings during which representatives from the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Health (DOH), Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), and others go door to door in Petworth’s most rodent-prone stretches, applying pesticides while educating residents on proper trash removal. Bowser spokesperson Jasmin Benab says the Mayor has run seven Tuesday Blitzes thus far, and will continue each week until it gets too cold to walk around.

Lest anyone doubt it, the rat problem in the District is real.

Recently the Department of Health issued a “rat population increase” warning to DC residents. It attributed rat population growth to new construction, milder winters, and improper trash storage. According to a September Washington Post article on the topic, there have been 3,286 rat complaint calls to 311 this year, up 64% since 2015. 

And the rat problem in Petworth is nasty.  My house on 7th Street backs out onto what my husband and I have lovingly termed “rat alley.” When we get bored, we watch from our deck as rats chase each other between decrepit piles of half-broken trashcans. Over the summer, I watched helplessly as rats burrowed under increasingly sophisticated barriers to devour the tomatoes, squash and kale in our back yard.

Tuesday Blitzes promises to take a step in the right direction, by eradicating rats in Petworth’s dirtiest spots while teaching residents about how to store their trash correctly, and inspecting trashcans to see which need to be replaced or repaired. Benab explained that broken trashcans act as rat magnets, drawing the hungry beasts with pungent odors and the promise of nibbles.

“One of the most important strategies for controlling the rodent problem is to deprive them of food and shelter,” instructs the DOH Rodent Control division in a truly awesome promo video.

ANC 4C Commissioner Karen Cooper said she’s glad Bowser is taking the issue on. “I think it’s an excellent way to get things done,” Cooper said, noting that she particularly appreciates the chance for DC’s agencies to work cooperatively to tackle the problem.

Cooper described participating in a recent Tuesday Blitz, which focused on the 4100 block of Georgia Avenue. She said the Department of Public Works, DCRA, and the DOH Rodent Control unit teamed up to spray rat holes with poison in a “particularly awful” alley behind several store fronts. The agencies spoke to area businesses about proper trash removal, and warned one soon-to-open restaurant that they would not approve its permit until it cleaned up its alley.

Cooper said she was pleased with the effort, and recommends that other Commissioners take Mayor Bowser up on offers to conduct Tuesday Blitzes in their jurisdictions. But Cooper worries that with the influx of restaurants in Petworth, particularly along the 800 block of Upshur Street, things will only get worse.

“I don’t know if we’re ever going to get rid of these creatures, it’s like roaches,” she says.

Benab and Cooper both point out that if Petworth is to rid itself of rats, then residents have to play their part. Benab said that technically, residents are subject to fines for not keeping their trashcans in proper order, or for keeping their trashcans in the alley too long after trash collection.

“We need everyone’s patience because it’s going to take a while,” Benab said. “But people have to put their part in.”

What to do if you have rats?
If you need to lodge a rat complaint, the best place to call is 311. When you contact 311, request that the report be sent to DOH, which will then assign the claim to a Rodent Division team member.  

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