Downtown’s Best Kept Secret: Rats

Rodents like high-rise living

What do downtown office towers have in common with West Dallas housing projects?

Rats.

An attorney says his office suite, more than 40 stories above street level in the First International Building, was the home of a family of rats that spent their days burrowing through the insulation in the walls. Another attorney, who works in a major downtown bank building, came back to his office after dinner one evening to find it occupied by a huge black rat. “I don’t want to sound chicken,” he says, “but it was so big that I felt the need to climb up on a chair and scream.”

When 30 pounds of poisoned apples were placed on two basement floors of the Republic National Bank building, they were consumed within hours. Experts say it takes more than 300 rats to eat that much that fast. In another building rats gnawed through six inches of concrete to reach a place where food was stored. The only thing that will stop a determined rat is solid steel.

The breed of rat found downtown, according to city health inspectors, is the roof rat, which can climb concrete walls almost as fast as it can run on the ground. The rats spend their days in the walls and ceilings of upstairs offices and their nights in the cafeterias and coffee shops downstairs. A one-pound rat can live on one ounce of food per day, and it will eat computer cards, office plants, or just about anything else if tastier food is unavailable.

“I have been in virtually every major building in downtown Dallas, and I know of no building that has not had a serious rat problem in the past or that does not have one right now,” says Jan Loven, agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There is no widespread coordinated effort to eliminate the rats, he says, because the building owners are unwilling to admit that they exist. “This problem is not going to be solved,” Loven says, “until city officials are willing to publicly state that we have a rat problem in downtown Dallas.”

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