Rat remediation program underway in Laurel barn area

The company that has been contracted to handle a rat remediation plan in the Laurel Park stable area said the initial results have been positive.

AmericanPest, based in Fulton, Md., has placed more than 150 "Smart boxes" throughout the barn area after a walk-through to determine the best locations. The boxes, which have a data-tracking system, work in conjunction with rodenticides that are kept outside of barns so horses aren't exposed to the poison.

"We've already done some work," said Brian McQuaid, who handles the Maryland Jockey Club account for AmericanPest. "As of (Feb. 26) we had crossed over 90 rats in less than a week. We watch the data on which boxes perform the most and which boxes perform the least. When we find centers of population, we can move boxes to areas that are over-performing."

Smart boxes resemble kitchen-sized trash cans. They have entry and exit holes--rats will enter because they see a way out--and attract the rodents with an animal fat spray inside the chamber. When a sensor is triggered by a rat, the chamber is elevated to activate a "reverse defibrillator" that stops the heart. When that process is finished, the carcass is deposited in a separate department and the smart box resets.

One smart box is considered full when it contains eight to 10 dead rats, McQuaid said. The company at a given time can have up to 25 employees on the ground in the stable area to empty boxes and relocate them if necessary based on the data. The 24/7 technology allows AmericanPest to track the fullness of each Smart box and also gauge hours of rat activity.

The company recommends that trainers and backstretch employees not move the boxes or obstruct them and to keep horse feed properly stored. McQuaid noted that the rat population is "exceptionally large and well-fed" at Laurel.

"Once the boxes are in place, not moved, and take on the smell, rats naturally like to travel through spaces where their whiskers touch on one or move surfaces," McQuaid said. "It's important to not move the boxes and for the barn folks to not do their own baiting and poisoning. That can be risky to Laurel and risky to us."

McQuaid said the company suspects there are two issues at Laurel: a native rat population that can be normalized but not entirely eliminated, and sewer drains that could be supplying the population of rats. The goal, he said is to try to limit new introductions.

"Once we have control, we don't let it get out of control again," McQuaid said.

A meeting on rat remediation and backstretch protocols has been scheduled for Wednesday, March 18, at 10:30 a.m. in the Laurel track kitchen. Everyone is urged to attend.

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