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Memories of rats plague family

The family that battled a rat infestation moves to a new house, but it can't forget the ordeal.

After the exterminators came and took care of the rats, Skip Monahan still couldn't sleep at night.

Lying in bed at his home on Liberator Court, he could still hear the echo of their tiny footsteps, scurrying between the walls and through the attic overhead.

"The last thing we did before bed was beat on the kitchen wall to see if we could get them to go back up to the attic," Monahan's wife, Kathie, said last week. "It was awful."

In May, the couple ended their battle with the rodents and moved to a home on Gaston Street, which so far has remained rat free. Now, a year after media reports put the spotlight on the infestation they say ruined their dream home and forced them to move, the Monahans remain bitter.

"It's kind of devastated my whole family," Monahan said Friday. "My family and I just want to forget this ever happened."

County officials said last week that rat-related complaints to the health and code enforcement departments have dropped from 100 last year to just one or two this year.

Al Gray, an environmental manager with the Hernando County Health Department, credited the county's removal of debris from a canal behind the Monahans' property with eliminating the problem. He also pointed to an aggressive campaign to educate residents in infested areas about ways to protect their homes.

"Very little enforcement action was required," he said. "It was really just community action."

Jack Dougherty, who lives on Liberator Court, said the problem in the neighborhood has disappeared.

"To the best of my knowledge not a furry little creature has entered the property anywhere," he said. "No one has mentioned a problem."

Monahan, who has seen rats in his new neighborhood, doubts the effectiveness of the county's efforts and contends there should be a statewide program to battle infestation and help families that fall victim to it.

Last year, between April and December, the Monahans killed 71 rats, a number they said represented a small fraction of those that had nested in their attic and shredded the insulation. The couple said damage to the house included holes in the walls, screens, air ducts and terra cotta roof.

Mrs. Monahan blamed droppings left by the rodents with fouling the air and sickening her 7-year-old daughter, Sydney.

All of which contributed to the couple's decision to leave the house they had lived in for seven years.

"They had done so much extensive damage that it would have been thousands of dollars to fix it," Mrs. Monahan said.

She estimated they spent $3,000 in extermination fees, not to mention hundreds of dollars on a handyman who came to the house on weekends to do odd jobs, such as re-doing the screens on the porch, patching the roof and repairing duct work in the attic.

"The insurance company would do nothing," Mrs. Monahan said.

A sign in the front yard reveals that the Liberator Court property is in foreclosure.

In their new neighborhood, the Monahans have had trouble forgetting what drove them there.

"I hear a couple of whispers here and there about, "I hope they didn't bring rats with them,' " said Mrs. Monahan. "We don't need that. . . . I kept a very nice house."

Meanwhile, Jambalaya, the cat given to the Monahans last year by the county's Animal Services Department to combat the infestation, turned up missing shortly after the move.

It turned out that a neighbor had rounded him up with a bunch of other cats found outside and took him to the pound.

To get Jambalaya back, Monahan said his wife had to pay $75, plus a fine because the animal had not been neutered by Animal Services.

"I am so done with this county," he said. "I'm just really, really bitter right now."