Rats raised in a suspected drug den have escaped and invaded the streets of Watson Lake, according to residents.
Around 30 rats were discovered in a trailer on Teslin Crescent a month ago and have been sighted across town, said Sherry Botterill.
The town and the local MLA, Premier Dennis Fentie, have brushed off her concerns and been slow to stop the growth of what could be a major public health and safety risk.
“They’re just pushing this aside,” said Botterill, who is raising her three-year-old granddaughter across the street from the abandoned trailer.
An official with environmental health, a branch of the Health and Social Services Department, has ordered all the rats exterminated, she said. The vermin could nest in the town’s hospital and Johnson Elementary School, which are only a block away. A neighbour’s dog has already vomited a dead baby rat and a rat has been spotted in a bird feeder.
But the town, which removed four cages of rats, is trying to put at least two rats up for adoption at the town’s dog pound.
“This is their prime breeding season and obviously they’re out,” said Botterill.
The rats, which are tan, white, grey and black, were being raised in a trailer by a bunch of unknown youths.
Botterill, 49, began seeing a problem three months ago.
The trailer had no heat, no power and no running water. But that didn’t stop the youths, who were around 19 and 20 years old, according to Botterill, from partying.
“People were defecating outside the house,” she said.
One neighbor drove out of her driveway as one of the youths was having a pee outside. He waved when she spotted him, said Botterill.
The youths abandoned the trailer two months ago, she said.
She called the RCMP, environmental health and the town’s bylaw officer, Danny Miller.
Word got around that there were rats in the house. A bunch of neighbours decided to peer into the open back door.
“We went into the house and found four cages of live rats that weren’t being fed, and there were three that ran across my foot that were larger,” said Botterill.
One cage looked like it had mice, but she couldn’t confirm it. There were at least 20 to 30 rats in the other cages, she said.
They called a conservation officer, who entered the trailer with Botterill.
“The one that had run across my foot – the blond one – it ran into the cupboard and they clubbed it to death,” she said.
The officer never found the two others that had escaped.
After the rats were removed, environmental health ordered them eradicated, said Botterill.
But two of the rats are up for adoption at the town’s pound.
“I told the dog catcher that I hope they’re both of the same sex,” she said.
Nicholson told her that it was the bylaw officers’ call on whether to kill the rats.
Botterill made several calls to bylaw without a definitive answer, but eventually they stopped picking up the phone.
“Now they’re saying there’s nothing wrong with it; the predators will get them,” she said.
Botterill doesn’t buy that argument. It’s a pretty lax approach when environmental health is concerned about rats getting into the hospital and the school, she said.
Botterill brought her concerns to Fentie last Sunday.
“At first, he said, ‘I don’t know nothing about it,’” she said.
She pressed him, telling him that people in town who are his friends were concerned about the rats.
“He said, ‘I don’t think there’s an issue, the predators will get them,’” she said.
The rats would get under people’s trailers and into their homes, said Botterill.
She also told him to get on the bylaw officers’ case.
“The bylaw officer promised he would come over and clean up the human feces and take the cars out, but they haven’t,” said Botterill.
The owner was renting the trailer to a couple and then the young adults replaced them, said Botterill.
“(The owner) apparently doesn’t know anything about it, but if you’re not getting any rent, I mean,” she said.
Rat sightings have continued over the last two months.
The bylaw officer had one in his yard, said Botterill.
A neighbour’s dog vomited one or two rat babies in the house after eating them outside.
“So you can’t tell me they’re not out,” she said.
The dog’s owner, Brian Lund, confirmed the dog incident, but refused further comment.
A dead rat was found near the town’s bank.
Two people saw some near the clinic, she said.
They weren’t sure if the animals were muskrats, but several trappers have told her that the muskrats are still burrowed in the snow.
On Wednesday morning, Botterill spotted a rat in her bird feeder.
All in all, the sightings are all within a two-block radius, she said.
The trailer was a known drug den and was also under investigation by the Safer Communities and Neighborhoods office, known as SCAN.
“Environmental health told me they were sending down a special task force, but they weren’t at liberty to tell me who,” she said.
“And then SCAN told me that house was under investigation for narcotics.”
After peering into the trailer on Tuesday, Botterill found no live traps, only rat poison.
She wants a ban on rats, like they have in Alberta, where a rat patrol keeps an eye out for the pests.
“We’ve never had rats – talk to all the trappers,” she said.
“It’s not too cold for rats to survive because they survived in that trailer in minus 40 Celsius without any heat,” she said.
Environmental health could not provide information before press time. The Watson Lake bylaw office could not be reached. A call to Fentie was not returned.
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