Vector control agent Sandy Atkins quietly moves along the fence of an East Memphis home. It's a sunny morning, and she expertly moves bushes aside with a wooden baton, looking carefully for any sign of rodents.
As the weather warms up, more local residents may find themselves "smelling a rat," so to speak. Shelby County households pay a 75-cent monthly fee for vector control services through the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department.
In this case, the resident saw a giant rat on her patio. When Atkins got to the house, she spotted a Norway, or brown, rat climbing up a tree. The other common local rat is the roof rat, a rodent whose tail is longer than the length of its body.
Vector control tries to investigate most rodent complaints within three business days.
During an inspection, the health department staffer "will look for things that can contribute to rat infestations, such as pet food, standing water, sewage outcropping, improper storage of wood, and general sanitation concerns," says L.C. Garth, manager of vector control services.
Often the infestation is caused by dog feces, a primary food source for urban rats.
"Rodents will also make 'rat runs' or tracts on the ground that go from one location in the yard to their burrow," Atkins says.
After finding nothing along the property's perimeter, Atkins searched a nearby shed, placing rodent bait in it. Even if she doesn't find evidence of rats, Atkins always places bait on the property as a preventative measure.
After the inspection, the health department may issue citations to home-owners who do not maintain their property in a sanitary manner.
Homeowners can alleviate rat problems in and around homes by keeping yards and storage areas clean and free of debris.
To report a problem to vector control, call 323-8473.