By Harry Kane
“There were three giant rats just playing. I mean, they’re nocturnal animals, so for them just be out during the daylight is a big deal,” said Toni Brogna, a resident of Mt. Vernon Street in East Somerville.
Brogna owns a duplex at 19-21 Mt. Vernon St. She’s lived at the house for nearly 35 years. Brogna’s parents recently passed away, and she made the decision to stay in her family house.
For many years, it was rare to see a rat, she recalls. But a couple years ago, Brogna became concerned. “You started seeing rats, a little bit here, a little bit there. You saw them more frequently.”
In the past, the furry pests have been spotted under the McGrath Highway overpass feeding on pigeon carcasses. Apparently, rats eat pigeon droppings and dog stool, too. These scavengers get their nutrition from a variety of sources.
“At the foot of Mt. Vernon Street, 93 goes down towards Sullivan Square, so you are underneath the highway. There are pigeons there all the time,” Brogna said.
Last summer, Brogna remembers more rats than ever before. And this summer she fears the rats will return in larger numbers. “I’ve never seen the quantity, and the size of them. They are getting bigger and bigger,” she said.
Brogna attended a local meeting and alerted city officials that the rats are growing in size and number. “Right now, they’re probably about a foot. They’re huge, they’re probably the size of a small cat.”
Rats produce litters roughly a dozen times per year, with only a 21-day gestation period. These incestuous frenzied cannibals multiply at an astounding rate.
Brogna always had a vegetable garden in her backyard. But this year she won’t be growing her vegetables like in years past. “I want to do everything and anything to prevent the rats from even coming across my property,” she said. “I don’t want to see them, at all.”
Whether Brogna’s backyard is clean or not, the rats scurry through, looking for food and shelter. “I’ve had a few occasions where I go pick up a dead one.”
Brogna just had to replace all of her trash barrels. It cost almost $400 to replace the plastic barrels. The rats had chewed through them. She asks her tenants to keep everything closed and clean. But the rats keep coming back.
“Now you see them in large numbers,” Brogna explained. “You don’t see a rat, you see two or three playing.”
Brogna used to barbeque, garden and spend afternoons in her backyard. No more. “I won’t even go into my backyard anymore. I won’t have a cookout. I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to seem them,” she said.
A farmer suggested that Brogna use mint spray to keep the pesky rodents away. Since then, she sprays Castile peppermint and oil around her property.
A bunch of residents on Mt. Vernon Street share the same concerns. “We’re all beginning to hire the same exterminators,” she said.
The City of Somerville is not responsible for exterminating rats on private property, so the costs of hiring the exterminator is a price the locals must pay.
Following the last snowstorm, Brogna began hiring the exterminator to bait for this year’s wave of rats. She has spent nearly $600 this year, but she knows it will cost much more to fend off the urban rodents.
Two years ago Somerville brought in specialist Dr. Robert Corrigan from New York to investigate rat infestation. According to Corrigan, rats will come out in the daylight hours when their colony grows too large. Some feel the “rat whisperer” should be brought back to help solve the rampant rodent resurgence.
Elio LoRusso is running for Ward 1 Alderman and lives one street over on George Street. “Basically, my property is in the rear of Toni Brogna’s property.” LoRusso admitted that there is a serious rodent problem in East Somerville. “It’s gotten to a point where we can’t even go out at nighttime and sit on our patio.”
He said the rodents have been appearing more in the past few years, and that last year it was bad, but this year it’s worse.
“If you come to George Street in the afternoon, you’ll see rodents on the sidewalk, on the street, in the yard.” LoRusso said he understands that the city has been baiting but he feels that they need to be more pro-active. “Whatever they’re doing, it’s not working,” he said.
The rodents are affecting the quality of life in East Somerville, LoRusso said. “It’s out of control. It’s something that really needs to be put on top of the priority list.”
Another distressed resident is Barbara Castro, who lives at 8 Mt. Vernon St. She’s been at that house since 2003. Castro attributes the increased rodent activity to warmer winters, construction and garbage.
“When we sit on the porch, we watch them kinda run from upper Mt. Vernon Street. We’ll see them running across our property. They often go to the neighbors, under the porch,” Castro said.
Castro thinks the massive rats are larger than ever. “Probably the size of large cats or small dogs,” she noted.
The residential properties are using bait boxes to kill the rats, but Castro feels that is like a Band-Aid instead of a solution. The real concern, she added, are the commercial properties on Broadway, but she didn’t want to single any one business out from the rest.
“When you walk along Broadway, the sidewalks aren’t clean, the streets aren’t clean.” Castro thinks people throw trash on the ground, and the businesses’ food attracts the rats.
Castro said the worst experience she’s had so far happened when she opened her back door, and a rat ran across her feet as she stepped over the threshold.
The new Superintendent of Inspectional Services, Goran Smiljic, took over a few weeks back and understands that some “major changes” need to be made to avert rodent infestation before it gets even more out of control.
Right now, there’s a tracking system in place to alert the city of repeated rodent sightings. This database will be overhauled in the coming months to better enforce the rodent related concerns in Somerville, according to Smiljic.
Smiljic admitted that he is still learning about the ways to reduce rodent population. “I’ve never dealt with this many rat issues,” he said.
A new cutting edge pilot program in New York’s subway system was recently launched to sterilize female rats. If successful, the product, which is orally administered to rats, could cure Somerville of the diabolical rodents.