Letter to the Editor – August 6

On August 6, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

I’m writing this to tell Jax’s story so that others don’t have to learn this lesson the same way I did … the worst way imaginable.

Jax was a happy and rambunctious puppy like most but like most owners would say, he was far from common. Just ask all the people he would meet on his 2 daily walks where he marched proudly down Broadway and Medford St wagging his tail wildly the entire time and he would pull with all his might to meet everybody like he was running for Mayor. He would go from bouncing off the walls and tearing up shoes to crawling up on your lap for a nice cuddle and nap. Like all crazy pups he would get into things he shouldn’t … like the dead rat in the bushes that resembled his toy squirrel. When he emerged from the bushes with his new plaything I did what anybody would do, I yelled for him to drop it, which he did after his getaway attempt was quickly thwarted. I was grossed out and carried him inside to brush his teeth because he certainly wasn’t kissing me with that tongue anytime soon. It’s too bad toothpaste was least of my worries.

A couple days later Jax was not acting like himself. The dog who once ate every meal twice a day like a pie-eating contest at a fair was no longer eating or drinking. The dog who once would sprint end to end in my house showing off his favorite toy was lethargic and just wanted to cuddle on the couch. I was sure the rat he had in his mouth was poisoned and somehow some had got into Jax. It turns out I wish it were a case of relay poisoning because there is an antidote and treatment for most poisons.

After I noticed his skin yellowing I knew it was serious so I rushed him to Mass Veterinary Referral Hospital in Woburn where my worst nightmares came true, Jax had contracted Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that has many symptoms and ultimately causes liver and kidney failure. It is spread through rodents urine and fluids. Dogs will typically come into contact with the leptospira bacteria in infected water, soil, or mud, while swimming, passing through, or drinking contaminated water, or from coming into contact with urine from an infected animal. Scariest of all the infection is zoonotic, meaning humans are susceptible too!

As everyone in Somerville knows, rats are an epidemic here with all the recent construction. I was aware rats carried diseases but had no idea my puppy was in danger. I got the call from the Vet that there was no improvement and Jax was no longer urinating so he couldn’t pass all the fluids he was being administered. I made the difficult but logical decision and drove up to say goodbye to my sweet baby boy with my family.

I hope nobody has to experience what my family and I endured so please keep your pets safe when outside your house. I certainly wish I knew about this sooner.

— Mike Arnold


30 Responses to “Letter to the Editor – August 6”

  1. Courtney O'Keefe says:


    I’m very sorry to hear about Jax. Clearly, more can be done to end the rat epidemic in the City. My most heartfelt condolences.

    Should any City Officials be reading this, I’m curious to know where we are with the testing of rodent fertility management. I believe this is the last piece to the comprehensive approach to the rodent issue established last fall.

  2. philb says:

    I’m sorry to hear this, but please don’t try to place the blame on construction, people who do that are usually people who resent the construction as part of misplaced resentment against urban renewal.

    Rats are attracted by food sources, not construction vehicles, construction just disrupts their tunnels until they find new ones. We need to cut down on food sources and the sterilization program will probably help too.

  3. Bam says:

    Apparently Phil isn’t a life time resident of Somerville because as anybody who’s lived here for more than 10 years will tell you, the rat population didn’t pop up on Somerville’s radar til all the major construction around the railroad tracks forced them out. Enjoy the condos on Lowell St Phil, sounds like guilty conscience rather than logic!

  4. Philb says:

    I’ve lived here for more than 10 years, there were rats more than 10 years ago. Rats want food. I’m sorry if that answer doesn’t fit with the narrative you want. The misplaced aggression clouding the logic isn’t helpful.

  5. PixiePocahontas says:


    What happened to your dog, Jax is truly heart wrenching. For you to share this tragic story so it will serve to prevent this again to another dog, shows your thoughtfulness and compassion.

    I agree Barn, the enormous scope of construction at Assembly caused this rat infestation since it borders the Mystic River runs and railroad, abandoned businesses, were dormant for decades. Excavation/drilling destroyed rats habitat and the city has yet to deal with this problem effectively. People like Phil are ignorant and bias against the immigrants who own restaurants on lower Broadway. What’s the matter Phil? McGrath shoebox condos aren’t good enough for you? I hope the Latino population last for 100 years, move down to Davis and beyond. Not only are they some of the hardest working people around, they know how to cook, provide affordable prices and FILL your plate!

  6. unbelievable says:

    philb is just unreachable. of course there were always rats. but this is an explosion. anyone who doesn’t make the construction connection is daft. You’re digging up their habitats all over the city. Then you leave port-a-potties on site for weeks/months. Human waste and water sitting for weeks is a recipe for rodent infestation. We have never had a rat problem like this before.

  7. PixiePocahontas says:

    I believe keeping the rats around helps with the gentrification takeover. Think about it– many would move out if dealing with rats on a daily basis on and around their homes, with young children and pets.

    I don’t get it– any responsible administration would have cleaned this up by now.

    If Bekkas yuppies saw rats in the kingdom of Davis Square , how long before she would enleash an army of exterminators until they where gone?

    This is a disgrace and why our state health and safety department are asleep at the desk, is incomprehensible.

    Mike’s tragic story of his beloved dog is proof there is a serious health code violation which this city continues to be negligent. If this happened on W6 turf, I guaranteed there would be a sh@tstorm by the yuppies who walk dogs and their queen would breathe fire.

  8. Bam says:

    If you had a rat problem over 10 years ago, I question your lifestyle. The population was under control when the rats lived mainly along the tracks and river because there wasn’t enough food for them to get out of control. It wasn’t til construction made them relocate that the population exploded when they found all our trash.

    Not sure where you got misplaced aggression from the original letter PhilB. It’s not a rant about how construction has turned our city into rodent paradise, it’s to inform the community the danger the rats pose to our pets and to all of us since Lepto affects humans as well. Frankly doesn’t matter where the rats came from or how they got here. The fact that the population is out of control is the point.

  9. also says:

    The other difference is rats are now infesting where they never were before. My neighborhood has no dumpsters, stores or restaurants, and we see them. The only time we saw this previously was when the Red Line to Porter and Davis was being built. Any wide-scale excavation causes this, and we have a ridiculous amount of that happening. Add to this the destruction of the old trash incinerator (excuse me, transfer station) with no planning or abatement in advance of demolition–you have rats everywhere. Stop blaming the homeowner

  10. JAR says:

    First off, Mike Arnold; I am sorry to hear of the loss of your pet. We have two small dogs and they are the joy of our now empty-nested lives.

    We live on Spring Hill up by the hospital. I’ve been in the house all my life (55 years as of yesterday). During that time we had one of the hospital’s dumpsters right across the street as well as the kitchen in the old wooden building (where I worked in the mid 70s). We went through the construction of the North Building in 1962 and the demolition-construction-demolition of the main building when the new central building was built in 1975-’77. Not to mention that until around 1970, everyone had swill buckets in their back yards which the City sanitation workers emptied once a week.

    During that entire time, I cannot recall ever seeing even ONE rat in the neighborhood–not a single one. Back then there were many cats–summertime nighttime cat fights were a frequent occurrence–and I figure that is a large part of the reason why we never saw rodents around.

    Now, however, it seems like every other person I talk with around town has problems with rodents. As with the Big Dig, the disruption of long time habitats by larger-scale projects such as Maxwell’s Green has to be considered near the top of the list of causes. Where once there was a field of overgrowth and brush, there now exists Somerville Junction Park. Where once there were garages or derelict railroad rights-of-way, there are now community paths and condos.

    Like everyone else in the City, we recently were assigned black rubbish bins and told that their use is mandatory even though we’d never had any problems with the previous trash containers, including such things as a family of raccoons in a neighbor’s yard which would frequent our driveway.

    The common denominator is definitely the construction/development going on. To that end, and given the experience in Boston 15-20 years ago, it probably would have been wise to take a more pro-active approach to rodent abatement. Now we’re playing a game of chase-the rat’s tail.


  11. jd says:

    You are right, JAR. The city has ignored the problem and pretended it was being caused by homeowners. Yet despite homeowners receiving tickets if their trash barrel cover comes loose, or if the barrels are put out at 3:39 (the after 4:00 rule I’m sure deters lots of rats!), I continue to see apartment buildings and hip restaurants with overflowing dumpsters. And the OPEN trash containers in the parks and along the bike path are overflowing with food and dog waste, two of the things most responsible for attracting rats. We are fighting them off with one hand and welcoming them in with the other!

  12. Michelle says:

    This is a very sad occurance.

    For a moment, I’d like to put out some dog-centric information for pet owners in this city ( regardless of which gentrification soap box you stand on).

    The two major strains of leptospirosis that affect dogs can be vaccinated against. Additionally, wherever sweet Jax spent his last heart wrenching days going to the bathroom should be noted, as the bacteria is spread from contact with the bodily fluids of an infected animal, perpetuating the problem. I urge folks to get their pups vaccinated in this city because of the current rodent problem, because in this particular instance, it is more effective than pointing fingers (but doing nothing).

  13. PixiePocahontas says:

    The brilliance of the city’s policies are astounding-

    If you leave your covers off, even when there are no signs of rodents, you are subject to a $50 fine. If you appeal, the only correspondence received is an increase to $80, for noncompliance of first fine. If you pursue, another letter will arrive outlining a provision which entitles you to dispute the fine in court with a non refundable $125 fee. So what type of administration are we running here? Don’t answer, you might be fined for your critical response.

    When you inquire about said ordinance, their claim is they have stats to prove how many other neighbors have received same fines, yet will not produce the document. They could simply disclose streets and numbers of uncovered barrels, no names or street numbers are necessary. Most of us understand the ethical and professional importance of retaining confidentiality of innocent people. Unfortunately, that has also become compromised in many ways in order to attack those who disagree with the agenda.

    Prior to new barrels (we are paying for), we were told the only time our barrel covers could be removed, is the evening before trash day.

    Were the rats in compliance?

  14. PixiePocahontas says:


    Most dog owners are not vets, so they couldn’t possibly know about the contagion of fluids. I would also research the vaccination since it could have side effects. There are lots of unapproved pharma experimentation on the market even in the field of veterinary medicine. We have been to several vets for an incurable skin disorder and not all vets are in it for love of animals. Some depend on high fees to finance their research.

    The answer is to get rid of the rats and we will not have to worry about our dogs encountering the same painful and tragic end. I am so grateful Mike for sharing his story, because heightened awareness can save others from such a traumatic experience.

  15. Anne says:

    I’m with JAR in wondering if the trend toward keeping cats indoors has been a major influence on the rat population. It may be good for the cats, but I bet it’s also good for the rats, which is bad for people.

    After all, a main reason that cats came to live with people is because what we like (dry houses, grains stored for people & livestock) also attracts rodents – and people encouraged cats to live with us because of their ability to keep that rodent population in check.

  16. Amy says:

    I am so sad for this person’s loss- it’s heartbreaking.

    Regardless of how and when the rats came to be in such high population, this is a cautionary tale. The CDC reports that people, like dogs, are susceptible to Leptospirosis infections. http://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/pdf/fact-sheet.pdf

    Before raising a panic to pet owners about so-called experimental vaccinations, please know that like the FDA, animal vaccinations are regulated by the Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB) in the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).


  17. who, me? says:

    Michelle, love your slam on folks for “doing nothing”. People were elected or hired and are being paid handsomely to take care of these things. I have a life full of responsibilities and cannot take on policing the people in charge of this city. More picking on the homeowner/average citizen while the big guys sit around cashing checks

  18. Animal lover says:

    I’m so sorry about your loss of Jax. I was there the night he came in and I checked on him before I left. I also called the next day to check on him. Somehow and somewhere in my mind, I knew he was too sick. I’m sorry you learned about lepto in this manner and I’m sorry you wont get to you play with your little man again. He was lovely in the hospital and I bet even more lovely at home. Again my condolences.

  19. PixiePocahontas says:

    The city should cover the entire east side with black boxes, as colleges do.
    Medicine is no exact science, based on trials and error. Vaccinations may be a good idea if the dog owners are concerned but a better solution is for the city to require developers to provide effective methods that work for rat control.

    This problem should not be dumped on the taxpayers and residents, or dogs.

    This city is a microcosm of what is going on nationwide–

    The self professed elite enjoy dictating even when their ideas lack merit and are just downright moronic.

    They must be spending too many hours at their over paid jobs working from home.

    You know, like coming up with those important save the planet ideas like banning plastic bags.

  20. Rachel says:

    I’ve called the city to have them remove dead rats from the street, only for the rats to slowly decompose for weeks with ZERO action from the city. And honestly—I’m embarrassed to admit this—the thought of my dog getting ahold of them (or even catching one of the live ones we see daily) and getting sick had never crossed my mind. Now that I know your story, I am certainly going to be more cautious, and I will not cut the city any slack. Thank you for sharing. I hope you can find comfort in knowing that your story could spark enough conversation for something to actually be done about this problem.

  21. Jack the Destroyer says:

    If you leave the dead rats on the street, they will be eaten by other rats! it’s a self-fixing problem.

  22. who, me? says:

    agreed. maybe there’s some comfort in knowing your story opened a lot of eyes. I have an outdoor cat, and not sure what to do, but def have to do something. He would go right after a rat. I, too, have called to report a dead rat. and got nothing. sitting in the middle of the street in front of a school. Near to release time, and eventually some parents got a shovel and moved it. 2 days later I saw some workers walking around looking for the reported rat.

  23. sterilized says:

    I like the approach of providing food that causes rat sterilization. I wonder, though, if this leads to the inevitable Globe article about rats who waited too long and now can’t reproduce? Rat Invitro Clinics popping up? Black market baby rat adoption rings? Rats traveling to other lands to adopt excess rats? and will this all be funded with my taxes? Let’s think ahead, people.

  24. Jack is whack says:

    Jack, a dead rat left in the street, will not be eaten by other rats. it will be covered with flies, which leads to maggots. It will attract roaches, etc. It also presents exactly the problem that happened with this dog.
    and a lovely visual, too. Did you read the article?

  25. PixiePocahontas says:

    Where is the DPH?

  26. Jack the Destroyer says:

    What you need is not sterilization food, is cannibalism food! That way, the live rats will eat the dead rats. Pretty obvious, geniuses! Of course, they may end up eating our puppies too, but that’s called collateral damage :-)

  27. Pet Peave says:

    A Horrible Story and heartbreaking…never the less…Rats have been here forever…growing up at 600 mystic ave …all residents at one time or other would see rats running on mystic ave because the Mystic River was right across the st…and those whom would run through the grassy marsh to go watch the drive in movies across the river also had to dodge the rats…even had one inside the building at 600 one evening…was scared and would not come out from under the mailbox wall…we heard it was a beaver at first because of the tail? but it was large…as the woman squeeled in fright ( lmao today ) all was well when someone grabbed it by the flat tail and ran it across mystic ave…yes you could actually run across mystic ave at that time because there wasent alot of traffic like there is today so..my advise is..CALL THE HEALTH DEPT ! TAKE PHOTOS! of every rat you see dead or alive…they cannot dispute it then AND keep a leash on your dog….Watch where they are going! stay off the dang phone and watch them.

  28. Pet Peave says:

    Oh yes before i forget….if the city does not want to do its job…call the state house and ask them what could be done? take it OVER the heads of the nuts running the DPW/DPH…..do not hesitate….im sure alot of cities have problems but know where to go to get some help..otherwise all you will hear is….We Dont Have The $$$ to do the job…! WHAT! dang fibbers.

  29. Marc says:

    I suspect this problem will be addressed rather quickly when people start seeing rats in the oh so luxurious shopping/dining/living areas of Assembly Row! Not only is construction a problem, but the explosion of dogs is a problem. Rats feed on dog poop, it’s the first thing the exterminator tells you. So we have barrels all over the city, especially at the dog parks filled to overflowing with bags of dog poop. I called 311 one afternoon a few years ago because there was a rat, obviously ill, walking in circles at the end of my driveway. I told them there were a lot of kids in the neighborhood, and a playground. After multiple calls to 311, someone finally came more than 24 hours later after the rat died. Good job Somerville!

  30. Jack the Destroyer says:

    Regardless of how the problem is handled, I hope that the city will find a human way to exterminate the rats. :)

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