Rat Fink

Roof Rat Man leads Arcadia's rat race

Rats! Barry Paceley's got them, but like the guy with the proverbial pile of lemons, Paceley has made lemonade -- which, as residents of the tony Arcadia neighborhood know, is a roof rat's favorite beverage. It's been a year since Paceley and his fellow Arcadians went public about their ongoing battle with roof rats, the pesky, plague-carrying vermin who are deviling this once-stylish part of town. On the eve of his one-year anniversary as Roof Rat Man, Paceley and I sit in the Ritz-Carlton's Bistro 24, where, much to the horror of the wait staff, Paceley, in a booming voice, discusses rat poison, bubonic plague and the distinguishing characteristics of a healthy rat turd.

New Times: Why are they called roof rats?

Barry Paceley: They live most of their lives about four feet above the ground, traveling by trees and telephone wires and sometimes from roof to roof. They're indigenous to the coast, and they're usually in Southeast Asia.

NT: And they apparently prefer the fruit off citrus trees, which Arcadia is lousy with.

Paceley: Citrus is their primary source of water. They prefer to eat apples and pomegranates, and their favorite food is cat food, when they can find it. Peanut butter is also good. That's what we use to draw them to our traps.

NT: What are you doing to get the rats out of your 'hood?

Paceley: We'll never get them all the way out of the neighborhood, because you've always got new people and a lot of elderly women who aren't up at night and who aren't vigilant about getting rats off their property. What we've done is send out information about how to seal up your home and clean up your landscape. We're getting up to 30 calls per day on the rat hot line.

NT: Wait. There's a rat hot line?

Paceley: Yes. I set it up. It also promotes the Arcadia Citrus Program, which sends the excess citrus from our neighborhood to hungry families. My wife takes all the rat calls, and I take all the citrus calls.

NT: Is everyone in the neighborhood cooperating, or is there one guy who's actually helping the rats, like that weird guy in the movie Willard?

Paceley: Well, we don't have a rat advocate, if that's what you mean. But we have had calls from people who trap the rats and then call and say, "I took him out to the desert and set him free!" Which is ridiculous, because it's just transferring the problem to the desert. Hopefully, out there the rat will be quickly eaten by a hawk.

NT: Well, that's not very nice.

Paceley: It's a rat.

NT: Okay, sorry. Rats are vermin. But the ones on your Web site are kind of cute.

Paceley: They are cute! Look at their face up close, okay? Little bright eyes, little whiskers, little ears. But if that cute thing is chewing on the electrical wiring in your attic or chewing up your alarm system or falling down into your wall and dying, and you have to pay $1,200 to get the dry wall torn out because an oily dead rat smells pretty bad, that cuteness fades really quick.

NT: I guess it does, because I read where you're out killing the little guys with a Rat Zapper.

Paceley: A lot of people had crazy ideas about how to kill rats, from feeding them cement to luring them into a bucket of water with some cat food -- trying to create your classic drowned rat scenario. The Rat Zapper sat in my garage for a couple months before my wife convinced me to try it. It's a little box that electrocutes the rat. The problem with the poisons we recommend is that they're anticoagulants, which means that the rat eats it and then melts internally. Which is kinda yucky.

NT: I'll say. Everybody knows Arcadia now because of roof rats. How is your new reputation affecting property values?

Paceley: Not at all. Home sales are brisk. If anything, people think that a rat infestation means, "Hey, maybe now I can afford a home in Arcadia."

NT: You're sort of the neighborhood rat hero.

Paceley: I didn't mean to jump into the rat issue, but one year ago, when County Vector Control (CQ) verified that there was a problem but that they had no budget to do anything about it, I stepped in. The city was not going to be any help, so we called a rat meeting and 500 people showed up. I was in the back of the room with our Boy Scout group, but when I saw this response, I called the county and told them I'd take care of it.

NT: And you became the rat king. But what about your councilman, Greg Stanton -- what's he doing?

Paceley: He's provided roll-off bins for excess citrus, and he delivered a mess of Dumpsters. He's been very helpful, but rats apparently aren't a government issue, and there's not a lot the government could really do.

NT: I like your description of rodent droppings on the Web site. Is that so we don't mistake rat poop for some other kind of turd?

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