Does Sacramento have a rat problem?

Some say a rodent epidemic plagues the city

Cute rat—until it’s inside your cupboard, nibbling on your Hot Cheetos and Takis.

Cute rat—until it’s inside your cupboard, nibbling on your Hot Cheetos and Takis.

As hipsters sipped sweet, cool beverages on the backyard patio of a Midtown restaurant one evening last spring, his royal highness made a not-so-grand entrance.

Plump with wiry gray hair, he scampered under sockless loafers and sandals and around a ragbag of furniture items before vanishing through a gate. The appearance was brief, but that didn’t matter. City dwellers always rise for the Rat King.

It might be a bit much to say Sacramento has a rat problem, at least in comparison to rattier burgs like San Francisco and New York City. But Sacramentans definitely have a problem with rats. Especially downtown, where sightings are most prolific, the perception is that the troublesome creatures are taking over. Scampering past outdoor diners, chewing through gallery walls, piling near the river and railroad tracks—the city’s ew factor notches upward with every casual encounter.

But just how big, exactly, is the local rat squad?

Pinnacle Pest Control sales-marketing director Paul Serrano estimates his company averages between 800 and 1,000 rodent calls annually. A standard complaint involves one to three rodents, meaning customers encounter as many as 3,000 rats a year. And that’s on a slow year, says Serrano.

“Most of these calls are concentrated in the downtown and East Sacramento areas,” he said.

Those who live, work and play downtown already know this.

Midtown resident Karen Campbell says she routinely sees the mottled troublemakers in her yard. But that’s nothing compared to the time a hired cleaner misheard her direction to not put dry goods in her basement.

“Next thing I knew, I had a basement full of rats snacking on my fresh potatoes, cornmeal and flour,” she said.

Meanwhile, Courtney Sheats says her husband recently “coerced” a rat out of a room in the couple’s home by throwing books. At a drum cymbal. The book catapulted the rat, which had been perched atop the instrument, against the wall.

And then there’s Brian Fergel, whose dog tried to join the rat race last year. Fergel was walking his Chihuahua-fox terrier mix along the river near the Crocker Art Museum one evening, when his mutt sprinted after something scurrying by. The rat escaped past the metal barriers down by the river, so Fergel’s 13-year-old dog loped back.

And while those out in the country may not think twice about a floppy-eared rat getting down and dirty in their fields, city folk react otherwise.

“People in town are freaked out by it,” said Ramona Saunders, deputy agricultural commissioner for Sacramento County. Urban and suburban residents are the ones who routinely call her office’s Rodent Control Information line for help. After posing a few routine questions, she’s usually able to determine the problem is self-generated.

After one caller complained of rats making a home under her shed, for example, Saunders realized there was a host of reasons for the problem: The woman’s home was 100 feet from a stream, the next-door neighbor had ivy brambles growing on his property, and other neighbors fed their pets outside or else had pretty little bird feeders leaving grain on the ground. Case closed.

These are some of the most common draws for the two introduced species of Rattus primarily bedeviling California.

Roof rats—also sometimes called “black rats”—are what you’ll see most downtown, Serrano said. They have long tails and prefer nesting above ground in attics, walls and false ceilings. These agile critters use phone lines like highways and are capable of hopping from tree to tree to roof.

But those details are just incidental to what people really want to know, which is whether the rats are taking over.

At least for now, you’re in luck.

“We haven’t had an overload of rat questions this year,” Saunders said.

In fact, despite common conjecture otherwise, Serrano’s company fielded only five rodent complaints in March and zero through April 11.

Both Saunders and Serrano attribute the drop-off to the weather warming and an overall lack of rain. But it might also be because the afflicted have begun taking the fight right to the rats themselves.

After all, the experts say most solutions are common-sense DIY ones.

Campbell was able to clear out her basement rats by getting rid of any food that wasn’t sealed. She also was forced to ditch a whole winter season’s worth of stored clothes. The reason? The rats liked the “Apple Mango Tango” scented laundry detergent she used to wash them.

While Campbell is a conscientious neighbor, Saunders and Serrano agree there’s only so much one household can do on its own. If one resident or business owner minds his area, but the folks next door don’t, the rats will reign.

“It takes a village to keep the rat population under control,” Saunders said.