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?
Paceley: Well, people in Paradise Valley are always calling us with complaints about roof rats, but what they have are standard pack rats. We know this because their droppings are rounder than roof rat droppings, which of course are more cylindrical.
NT: Of course. Hey, people on the East Coast live with rats all the time. Why are we such wussies out here?
Paceley: We're very spoiled. In terms of keeping bugs and vermin out, Phoenix is sort of a safe harbor. The desert kept us insulated from all the bad crawly things.
NT: Except in Arcadia. Why are the rats flocking to one of the best neighborhoods? Are they classist rats?
Paceley: It's completely coincidental. These rats were probably brought into Phoenix from California, maybe in an old couch or something. It was probably a case of a pregnant rat saying, "Hey, here's a comfy place to hang," and she ended up in Phoenix. After three or four years, her comfy ride resulted in three or four thousand rats.
NT: Where will the Arcadia roof rats go if you run them off? Will they end up, like most rats, living behind cheap cabinetry in welfare housing?
Paceley: Unless someone deliberately takes one of these animals out of the area, they'll probably just move down the street a couple of doors. Rats aren't that bright. They're smart enough to not get into a trap, but not enough to know they're being surrounded and pursued. They also drown quickly and easily, so there's no chance of one of them falling into the canal and ending up in residency at the Biltmore.
NT: I read about something called the Arcadia Roof Rat Rally. Were there little rat competitions? Were there tiny foot races with cat food and pomegranates as prizes?
Paceley: No. I don't think so. If we had fleas, people might come see a trained flea circus. Rats aren't the same draw. The rally was just a kickoff for our citrus program, a general call to people to join in and help run the rats out. We went out and picked the citrus so that it wouldn't attract rats, and we shipped it out to the Papagos, the Hopis, the Navajos; 37 tons of citrus went directly to local tribes.
NT: It sounds like your rats have been good for promoting neighborliness.
Paceley: Yes, because neighbors are exchanging phone numbers and getting to know people they didn't know before. The rats are doing some interesting things for us.
NT: It sounds cozy. Maybe I should come over and kill rats with you guys.
Paceley: You could. You might need to bring your own Zapper, though.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the Phoenix art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.