City briefs public on rat problem at Cortland's Dexter Park

Dexter Park (Google Maps)

CORTLAND, N.Y. — A public forum was held Tuesday night at Dexter Park to brief local residents on the measures being taken by city officials to eradicate a rat colony that was discovered near the city park last week.

The rat colony originated at a private residence, city officials said Tuesday, but after the colony grew in size, some of the rats began making their way into the wood chips and mulch at the Dexter Park playground.

John McNerney, City of Cortland Youth Bureau Director, said the city responded to a parent who reported seeing a rat at the park on Thurs., Aug. 9.

Despite searching the area and not finding any rodents, the city decided to post signs and close off the park to the general public. Sweeney's Pest Control was called to help alleviate the problem.

“The city code department contacted our office 10 days ago about residents having rat issues. They wanted us to be on the lookout to see if we saw them at Dexter Park. We monitored it, and we didn’t see any signs of them in the park during that time,” McNerney said.

“We manage about 80 acres of park land. We’ve had incidents with animals in the past; geese at Yaman Park; turtles biting people at Yaman Park; bee hives; but this is new to me, and there is certainly a learning curve," he added.

See related: Rat sighting reported in Cortland's Dexter Park

After city officials determined the origin of the rodents, they hired a local pest control company to try and exterminate the colony.

“This all started a couple weeks ago, and the resident hired an exterminator and is currently and actively exterminating around 70 rats, and their numbers are dropping,” said William Knickerbocker, Director of Code Enforcement for the city of Cortland.

During Tuesday’s meeting, officials handed out informational pamphlets on rats and told residents to contact the Cortland County Health Department to request additional information. According to a Pet Coach article, the gestation period for female rats is usually around 22 days, and the average litter size is 6-13 pups.

The park will not be opened until it's safe for children, Knickerbocker said.

Exterminator plans to use traps

Mike Sweeney, of Sweeney's Pest Control, said the best way to fix the problem is by trapping the rodents.

“Doing a trapping program is an extensive thing. It’s quicker and easier to use bait,  and they’ll eat it quickly and die quickly, whenver the bait kicks in,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney’s explained that they set the majority of their bait boxes between the fence and the playground.

“We just put them out last Friday. It takes maybe three days before they start to investigate it and once they get used to it, they’ll continue to feed there until they die,” Sweeney said.

“A trapping program is very labor intensive; it takes a lot of time, so we haven’t seen any decline yet.”

Many community members were concerned with the rats eating the poison in the bait boxes, traveling elsewhere, and then dying in people’s yards only to have their children or pets find the deadrodents. Many people were also concerned with the diseases that rats carry.

“With the bait we use, there’s no secondary poisoning. If a dog or a cat eats a rat that died from the poison, it’s not going to die,” Sweeney said.

Concerns from parents

Many community members were concerned that the rats might end up dead in their yards, only to have their children or pets stumble upon them.

“With the bait we use, there’s no secondary poisoning. If a dog or a cat eats a rat that died from the poison, it’s not going to die,” Sweeney said.

Parents are also concerned with the cost of extermintion and felt the city should be pick up the cost.

“The cost to remove and replace the mulch would be $15,000, but we’re not going to put a price on the kids,” Tobin said.

The city is also working with the Cortland County Health Department to find ways to further clean and sanitize Dexter Park.

The topic will also be brought up again at the Cortland Common Council meeting this Tuesday.