Friday, February 11, 2011

An open letter to PETA

One of our Texas school districts recently received the following letter:
Dear Superintendent ___:

I am a director with PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Department. I hope this email finds you well. Thank you for speaking with my cruelty caseworker... regarding the use of glue traps by the ___ Independent School District. As he mentioned, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warn against glue trap usage due to the disease risks they pose. Glue traps are also exceptionally cruel. If lethal methods are insisted upon, the D-Con Ultra Set Covered Mouse/Rat Traps  and Victor Electronic traps are cost-effective, easily obtained, sanitary, and far less cruel.

May we hear from you that the ___ Independent School District has joined the countless businesses, corporations, and school districts that have sworn off using cruel glue traps? 
Now glue boards, by themselves, are not my favorite way to control rodents.  As commonly deployed, they do not typically kill the animal quickly, they need checking regularly and they may not leave a good impression on a customer who discovers a captured rodent on a glue board still alive.

I have less sympathy, however, with the argument that killing rats and mice is unethical.  When house mice, roof and Norway rats invade a home, school or business, there's no question in my mind who has to go.  It is more unethical, in my opinion, to release these pests (that prefer and are drawn to human habitations) back into the environment where they are likely to become another person's problem.

For these reasons, I have drafted a response to the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) letter and offer it here for your consideration and use, if you think it might be helpful for your district or business.
Dear PETA:

Thank you for your concern about the ethical treatment of animals.  Most of the people I know share many of your concerns and have no desire to cause unnecessary pain or suffering of any animal, including those that we consider pests.  Nevertheless, we may have a fundamental difference of opinion about the necessity to kill and eliminate rodents from human living environments.

Live rodents have serious aesthetic, economic, and health impacts on schools.  Any rodent activity in our facilities is considered highly unacceptable by our staff and our community.  Rodents damage school property via their chewing activity--which also puts schools at increased risk of fire (due to shorts caused by damage to electrical wiring).  Perhaps most importantly, rodents contaminate classrooms, offices, food and food preparation surfaces with their feces and urine. Rodents are implicated in the transmission of over 55 human disease pathogens. A single house mouse produces 50 to 75 droppings and over 3,000 micro-droplets of urine daily. These potentially bacteria- and virus-contaminated feces and urine droplets are dispersed wherever the mouse travels in a classroom, office or kitchen area. 

Regarding tactics, our district's main emphasis in on preventing rodent infestations.  The highest priority of our rodent control program consists of sealing potential rodent entry points into buildings, and eliminating conditions that are attractive to rodents (clutter, poor sanitation around dumpsters, food spillage, etc.).

Unfortunately, experience has shown that despite our best efforts, some buildings and grounds will become rodent infested.  When this occurs we look for the most effective, economical and humane methods for control. Some of these tactics include snap and multiple catch traps, solid and liquid baits, tracking powders, glue boards and glue trays.  It's important to note that none of these tactics by themselves provide complete control of rodents.  For this reason we use an integrated approach.

Our district's pest management program is based on a strategy known as integrated pest management (IPM).  The IPM concept recognizes the limitations of single tactic approaches to pest control, and tries to make use of simultaneous, multiple control tactics.  Glue boards and glue trays are not the principal method used by our district to control rodents.  Glue traps tend to be less effective for house mice than snap traps, and rats are more difficult to catch and contain on these devices.  Nevertheless, glue traps have useful applications.  For example, glue boards may be the most effective choice in tight quarters where snap traps cannot fit.  They are also useful in combination with multiple catch traps, where they facilitate cleaning and rodent removal.  In addition, glue boards help contain biohazards such as the carcasses themselves, feces and ectoparasites (e.g., fleas and mites) carried by many rodents. 

When glue boards are used, our staff makes every effort to check them frequently. Any live animals found trapped in glue are killed quickly and humanely. Glue boards are only deployed and monitored by licensed professionals on our staff or by licensed contractors. We presume that the CDC recommendations you refer to are the ones directed to homeowners who do not have the same level of training and professionalism as our staff. Our staff are trained to place and service traps in a manner that minimizes the risk of disease transmission (use of gloves, putting glue boards inside bait stations and inside multiple-catch traps, etc.). 

Thank you for your suggestion concerning electronic traps.  These traps have great potential for rodent control programs--especially for mice. They can certainly supplement, but not replace all other lethal methods in an IPM program.  It is also important to understand that electrocuting traps do not guarantee immediate kill for rats.  In addition such traps are up to 60 times (rats) and 150 times (mice) more expensive than snap or suffocation traps, according to one evaluation. Nevertheless, some of our colleagues find that electrocuting traps with wireless alert capabilities can be worth the higher cost by eliminating the need of labor expenses for repeated visits to check empty traps. We will continue to evaluate the use of these traps, as we do for all control options.

We believe that our efforts in preventing rodent problems first, and correcting infestations quickly, is the most humane approach to rodent control.  We will continue to search for and evaluate better methods to do this, and welcome any additional ideas or suggestions you might be able to provide.
If your district or pest control business is not currently using the IPM approach to managing rodent control, if it is not emphasizing prevention, and if it is not checking glue boards and multiple catch traps frequently, perhaps it's time to make some changes.  But don't doubt for a moment that when you trap and eliminate rodents you are providing a useful service to your community.  To do anything less would be cruel indeed.

1 comment:

Jodi Minion said...

Dear Dr. Merchant:

PETA was recently alerted to your blog post, “An Open Letter to PETA.” The key to preventing transmission of rodent-borne viruses is reducing and/or avoiding exposure to urine and droppings. Since rodents void their bowels when ensnared in adhesive, glue traps increase risks of transmission. Anyone in the vicinity of a glue trap, and those handling traps without the use of proper respirators and protective clothing, are at risk of inhaling aerosol excreta. In its “Facts about Hantaviruses” the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns against the use of glue traps for these reasons. Glue traps are also exceedingly cruel as panicked, ensnared animals struggle mightily, tearing flesh, breaking bones, becoming more entangled in the adhesive, only to die exhausted, frightened, injured, from shock, dehydration, asphyxiation, or blood loss. Research shows that death can take days. And glue traps are cost prohibitive because they aren’t reusable, and because they must be changed bi-weekly (whether or not a rodent has been caught) as the glue becomes inert. Glue traps should simply be avoided at all cost.

Effective rodent-control programs focus on exclusion, deterrents, and repellents as these prevent/control infestations. If lethal methods are insisted upon, death should be instant and human safety must be considered. The D-Con Ultra Set Covered traps (these are covered snap traps that corral the rodent’s body into position for a quick kill) are durable, discreet, inexpensive and cost effective/reusable, touch free/sanitary (USDA compliant), and can be set in hard-to-reach areas.


Jodi Minion
Wildlife Biologist
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)