Lessons learned from the great rat invasion

Contented neighborhood living requires a healthy dose of community spiritedness and cooperation. When even a few residents disregard their neighbors’ health and well-being, a neighborhood’s peaceful lifestyle can quickly shatter.


A case in point happened this summer when the rat population seemed to explode in several Pawcatuck neighborhoods, making for some unhappy, uneasy weeks. While the problem largely has been contained, thanks to municipal officials who took residents’ complaints seriously and diligent and labor-intensive work on the part of Ledge Light Health District, it never would have occurred at all if all residents had kept the public’s welfare in mind.


The problem first came to light with the hospitalization of a resident who had been feeding rats in a backyard. The rats, suddenly finding their ample food source gone, scattered into other areas in search of sustenance. When residents, startled and horrified to spot the long-tailed rodents in their yards and sheds, started complaining, more problems were uncovered. A resident, luring wild fowl into a backyard by supplying food, was also unwittingly encouraging rodents to join in the feast. Other residents had allowed trash to pile up. Many had continued to feed wild birds at a time of year when it isn’t necessary.


And then there were those raising backyard chickens, some in violation of the town’s zoning regulation. This clash of chicken owners and those seeking to reduce the number of rats presented probably the stickiest situation in the weeks-long ordeal.


Approval of a zoning regulation allowing for the raising of backyard chickens even in relatively densely populated neighborhoods was a hard- and long-fought victory in Stonington. And the presence of chickens in and of themselves doesn’t necessarily equal a proliferation of rats.


There is no denying, however, that where there are chickens, there is food, and rats are prolific eaters attracted to most any type of food source. Websites providing instruction and troubleshooting for owners of backyard flocks do warn that rats can gnaw through just about any style feed container and will do so if they are hungry. And rats are basically always hungry. Only steel cans with lids held tight with bungee cords can keep rats at bay, according to chicken experts.


Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons said the only chicken-related violations cited in the Pawcatuck section of his town involved the discovery of chickens kept on lots smaller than the required minimum of 20,000-square-feet. He also said the rat problem is not likely to spur the planning and zoning commission to change the town’s regulation or eliminate the ability of residents to raise chickens.


This is a fair-minded approach. Chickens, when kept on an appropriate-sized lot and in proper conditions, don’t shatter a neighborhood’s peace. The Pawcatuck rat population exploded largely because other conditions allowed them to do so. Primary among those conditions were amply stocked bird feeders and bird feed tubs placed by residents whose actions, while well intentioned, jeopardized their own and their neighbors’ health.


A common sense approach should prevent a repeat of the great rat invasion of Pawcatuck without having to sacrifice those backyard chickens.




The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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