Rats. Geraldine Batell says she has been roused by their raucous squeals and that they decommissioned her Toyota Camry. Before that, they set up house in her attic, leading to costly repairs.
Batell, 81, says the rats migrated from next door, lured there by a citrus tree and its fallen and neglected fruit. Her neighbors disagreed, but hired an exterminator. Last week, they cut down the tree.
According to Batell, whose waterfront home is in Yacht Club Estates, her rat problem is nothing new. It began a few years ago after previous neighbors planted the offending tree, she said. Back then, rats overran her attic and she was forced to hire an exterminator. She said the rodents ate the bait, got thirsty and as they escaped, destroyed the screens under the eaves. This time, they've chewed the wiring under the hood of her car.
"My car right now is at AutoWay Toyota in Pinellas Park," she said.
"The repairs are a couple of hundred dollars and we're working to get it fixed," said Marc Cannon, AutoWay Toyota spokesman.
"We have seen rat damage before."
Laura Tribou, 22, is Batell's neighbor. She said the woman's complaints have driven her crazy.
"She has called my workplace every day and she's left a message with everybody at my work," said Tribou, who is employed at her uncle's orthopedic practice in Pinellas Park and rents her home from him.
The University of South Florida St. Petersburg student said there were a few rats on her property several months ago and that she thinks the neighborhood rodents come from a sewer line running between the two homes. Tribou's uncle, Dr. Allan Alexander, said he spent more than $500 for pest control services.
"I don't want to be a bad neighbor," he said.
As for the damage to Batell's car, Alexander said the rats have steered clear of vehicles regularly parked on the property where his niece lives.
"Maybe they prefer certain types of cars," he said.
The city of St. Petersburg, which offers a free rodent program for sightings outside homes, attempted to come to the rescue. Batell was unimpressed. She said the city should have told her neighbors to get rid of their tree, which she said bore lemons and they, tangerines. City employees put baits on her property, but Batell said she asked that they be removed because she didn't want to attract more rodents. Besides, she wanted to protect her cat, she said.
Rats carry disease, said Bill Sundstrom, the city's sanitation coordinator, "as well as they can do great damage to property by chewing through electrical lines."
He said there are ways to keep the creatures at bay.
"They need to eat and, of course, they need to drink. Don't leave your pet food outdoors. Don't put out birdseed. Don't let your fruit fall off the tree and sit on the ground."
Sundstrom doesn't think that Yacht Club Estates, near Treasure Island, has an unusual rat problem. Last fiscal year, the city responded to more than 7,800 calls throughout the city and placed bait stations at each site, he said.
"With that many stations, we've got them in every neighborhood. The problem exists everywhere. There are no boundaries," Sundstrom said.
The citrus tree was felled Thursday and the hordes of squealing rats that kept her awake appear to be a thing of the past, Batell said this week. Her peace, though, could be short-lived.
"We were outside last night," Tribou said Monday, "and her tree that is hanging over our fence, there were a few rats in it."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.