When she heard her 13-year-old daughter screaming and crying in the backyard as her German shepherd attacked a rat hiding under a ladder, Amy Ellis decided she had had enough.
It was time to kill the rats.
"I contacted the Reston Association," said Ellis, a Cocquina cluster resident. "They said the cluster association would handle it, so I called a friend to see if he would bring it up [at the next cluster board meeting]."
Ellis, who has lived in the same house for 19 years, said she first noticed rats two years ago, but thought they had moved on since then.
"The first time I noticed the rats was when they were eating out of my bird feeder," Ellis said, adding she immediately got rid of the bird seed to get rid of the rats. "They were tight-rope walking across my garden lights to the bird feeder."
Jim Armstrong, environmental health supervisor for the Fairfax County Health Department said that bird feeders can be a main attraction for rats.
"The main thing is, rats are there because we provide them a food source," said Armstrong.
Armstrong said homeowners can reduce the probability of rats by removing food sources and places for the animals to burrow.
"For homeowners, some of the food sources are fruit trees that drop on the ground, like crab apple trees," said Armstrong. "As they decay that becomes food."
Armstrong gave other examples that included tomato plants or other garden vegetables that are easily accessible to rats, composts where decaying fruit or table scraps are thrown, pet food that is outside or easily accessible in a garage, even fecal dropping from a dog that in desperation rats can feed off of.
He added that bird feeders are another easy source of food and the more obvious, garbage in trash bags outside without thick plastic containers and lids that the rats cannot chew through.
"Rats are indigenous to the area," said Armstrong, adding that as long as people don't keep areas clean, rats will come.
FOR ELLIS, she has found numerous rat holes, or burrows, throughout her yard.
She said she has a compost in the back as well as lumber on the ground, that she has learned is the perfect home for rodents and has since removed.
But she's afraid they've already made a home in the crawl space beneath her house.
"I know that's where the rats are living because I have a gravel floor," she said, adding the Fairfax County Health Department pamphlet, left by an environmental supervisor who assessed her property for rats, indicated rats need only one half an inch to crawl in.
Ellis added that she knows of at least one or two neighbors who have also seen rats in their yards, but that she's the only one who has been vocal about trying to get them exterminated.
"Most people work and come home," said Ellis, who is currently unemployed. "With that kind of lifestyle it's easy not to notice stuff going on outside until it's inside."
Ellis said one neighbor was upset with her for being so vocal about the rats because of "the stigma of people knowing you have rats."
But she said she didn't care, she wanted them gone.
"Rats don't care if it's a $1 million house in McLean," said Armstrong. "They don't care what your socio-economic status is."
"WHAT WE DO is we knock on doors and say there's a report of rodent, or rat, activity in the area," said Armstrong of the health department's rodent assessment process. "Sometimes, even if they have not seen one, they may have a burrow in the corner of their lawn."
Armstrong said that although homeowners can take matters into their own hands, it's sometimes best to hire a professional exterminator, which is what Ellis finally did.
"I don't want to poison my backyard, and I don't think snap traps will work," said Ellis of her reasoning for an exterminator.