Old Town is responding to a surge in complaints about rats with a handful of high-tech tools. Credit: Mary Altaffer / AP

A guillotine-like device that kills rats, leaving their bodies to be washed away by sewer water, is one of the high-tech tools Old Town is using to fight back against the rodents residents say are infesting their city.

Old Town has responded to residents’ complaints about rats taking over their gardens, backyards and homes with a combination of alerts to property owners to get rid of open compost piles and prohibited farm animals, and high-tech rat extermination techniques that only a small handful of cities across the country are using.

At the end of May, Dave Oliver, a resident of Veazie Street in Old Town, spoke with the Bangor Daily News and detailed how he and his neighbors have been under siege after rats invaded their neighborhood. 

In the weeks since then, 156 property owners have received letters reminding them of city ordinances that are designed to prevent rats, including a prohibition on open compost piles and farm animals like chickens. 

Since those letters went out June 1, Code Enforcement Officer Dave Russell said he has found multiple properties in violation of those rules, and property owners have been working to come into compliance. 

Beyond education, Old Town has hired the company Modern Pest, which is supplying high-tech rat catch devices, Russell said. 

The company installed two types of rat control systems in Old Town on Thursday, he said. 

Underground, special traps in sewer lines can detect rats through body heat and motion. When a rat trips the device, death comes from above, Russell said. 

“There is a piston that comes down kind of like a guillotine and kills them immediately,” he said. “And then with the flow of the water through the sewer lines, it washes them down into the system.” 

Above ground, Old Town has abandoned typical poison boxes in favor of “Smart Boxes” that draw rats inside with bait. Once inside, a door closes behind the rodent, and an elevator moves the rat up while emitting a fatal electric shock, Russell said.

The elevator then deposits the rat’s carcass in a containment area inside the box, which Modern Pest empties.

Modern Pest and the city on Thursday were placing the boxes on public property around the Veazie Street area where many of the city’s rat complaints have come from, including the Old Town High School athletic fields, Russell said.

Old Town is one of the first places in the U.S. to use this rat-fighting technology.

As rat populations surged across the county following COVID-19 lockdowns, Portland tested out the boxes, made by Modern Pest’s parent company, Anticimex, which specializes in pest management techniques that don’t rely on pesticides and harmful chemicals, Axios reported in March

Portland deployed the boxes in April 2021 and estimates it captured close to 1,000 rats in its first year of using them, according to Route Fifty.

In Old Town, Russell said the city is committed to solving its rat problem to the best of its ability. 

“We’re desperately trying to make people at ease and take care of it,” he said. 

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...