The Wash

Photos from the front lines of the rat battle

“We’ve got a runner!” shouted Andre Pitman, a pest controllist for the District’s Department of Health, as a rat scurried across the sidewalk into yet another burrow.

The city is waging a pest control battle on multiple fronts to deal with its growing rat problem. DOH’s Rodent Control team works on the front lines. 

Idris Ahmad, Andre Pitman and Gregory Cornes hunt rats for the DOH Rodent Control team (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)

The team goes on regular patrols to check traps, destroy rat tunnels and cite businesses for leaving dumpsters open.

Cornes and Pitman on patrol in Eastern Market (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)
Rats can easily chew through garage doors (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)

It’s an uphill battle, team members say. Rats build tunnels beneath soil and concrete, chew through garage doors and can squeeze through holes the size of a dollar coin, project manager Gerard Brown says. “You have to be smart to survive.”

Pitman takes a break from digging up rat burrows (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)
Sylvia Cysiffary (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)

Sylvia Cysiffary of Eastern Market says she regularly finds dead rats outside her home. She blames a nearby cafe that often leaves its dumpster lids open. Cysiffary runs a private Facebook page to inform her neighbors about the persistent rat problem.

Pitman and Cornes check a bait box near Cysiffary’s home (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)

Officials say Eastern Market’s rat population is the highest in the city, rivaled only by Adams Morgan.

Cornes and Pitman look for rat tunnels (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)
Cornes pumps chalk while Pitman waits to fill the tunnels with dirt (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)
A dead rat found near its burrow (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)

In addition to traps, controllists manage rat populations by mapping underground rat tunnels with a chalk-like substance and then filling them with dirt.

Cornes searches an alley for rat tunnels (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)
Pitman and his team patrol near restaurants and cafes (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)

Workers say more and more restaurants are leaving their dumpster lids open, providing rats with an easy food source. 

Pitman, Cornes and Ahmad head to another Eastern Market alley (Shelby Hanssen / The Wash)

The city will launch a rat sterilization program in the coming months. Until then, it’s up to the Rodent Control team to keep rats at bay.

Kip Dooley

Kip Dooley

I'm a former high school teacher studying investigative and multimedia journalism in Washington, D.C.

Shelby Hanssen

Shelby Hanssen

I’m a graduate journalism student at American University.

Before that, I got my law degree at the University of Oregon School of Law. There I was an editor of the Oregon Law Review and published my own article on gender and identification documents.

In the past, I was a law clerk at the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, where I worked with a team of attorneys on same-sex marriage, divorce and custody cases.

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