On West 76th Street, a sound that has been heard once or twice a week lately is that of a woman screaming. The provocation? A rat scurrying by. Close by.
The person relating that news, Joseph Bolanos, the president of the block association, was one of the students at the Rat Academy, officially a session in “rodent management training,” on Tuesday at the office of Community Board 7 on the Upper West Side.
No, they do not issue diplomas at the Rat Academy. They do not even give a final exam. Just big trash cans that would be hard to chew through if you happen to be a rat, and hungry.
So there was a lot of trash talk — that is, talk about trash — at the Rat Academy. The instructor, Caroline Bragdon of the city’s health department, said that the rat equivalent of four-star dining was usually just around the corner. Literally.
“Rats can pretty much find everything they need nutritionally in the average New York City trash can or trash bag,” she said, adding that rats needed only an ounce of food a day to survive.
Rats “communicate,” Ms. Bragdon said, by leaving behind a trail of urine and chemicals called pheromones that convey a message to other rats: “That’s where I just went to get a nice meal.”
“To get rid of rats, we’ve got to get rid of the food,” she said. “The key for rat management for us is all garbage must be contained in a can with a tightfitting lid.” That forces rats to go somewhere else when they are foraging.
The students were people on the front lines in the fight against rats: building superintendents and managers, owners, tenants and neighborhood leaders. The mix, Ms. Bragdon said, “defused a lot of the anger you sometimes hear when there’s just supers in the room or just tenants in the room.” Usually, she said, “they complain about each other, those different groups.”
This time, though, the atmosphere was serious, earnest and practical — except at the beginning, when the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, welcomed the students.
“The rats on my block, they don’t scurry anymore,” he said, noting that he lives on West 71st Street. “They walk upright. They greet me and say, ‘Good morning, Mr. Borough President.’ ”
This did not get a big laugh. Mr. Stringer turned serious, saying, “The West Side, in particular, is really going through a rat infestation.” He said that at recent town-hall-style meetings, “the No. 1 complaint I get from constituents is about the rat problem.”
Ms. Bragdon talked about the health department’s Rat Information Portal, a Web site with tools for tracking, among other things, whether a building’s neighbors have been reported for rat problems.
She also covered essentials like where to look for nests, how to plug gaps in the walls and doorways leading to areas where trash is stored before pickups and what to do about bait and traps.
“Don’t do it yourself,” she advised. “That’s like saying, ‘I have high blood pressure; I’m going to take some medicine on my own.’ No. You go to a trained professional.”
Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer, who also helped organize the Rat Academy session, said she believed that the training would make a difference. “I’m hoping the West Side ends up with the fewest number of rat complaints,” she said. Aides said Ms. Brewer had secured $50,000 to pay for trash cans with built-in compactors that would be placed around Verdi Square, the park between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue by the 72nd Street subway station.
Mr. Bolanos, from the block association on West 76th Street, blamed contractors renovating brownstones for the block’s problems. He said the contractors discarded trash from lunch in their Dumpsters, which he said they covered with tarpaulins. He said the Dumpsters were not the kind of impenetrable containers that Ms. Bragdon had described.
“Any night when it’s not raining, you’ll see a ton of rats, 13 or 14 scampering back and forth,” he said. “Next week I’m putting up signs that say, ‘Rat Crossing.’ It’s like ‘Deer Crossing.’ ”
Of the people attending the Rat Academy, 10, chosen in a raffle, left with the plastic trash cans. Among them was Anderson Lopes, a superintendent on West 86th Street, who said he had picked up some useful tips. Not that he needed to.
“We don’t have a problem,” he said. “I’m the super there for four years now. I haven’t seen one rat.”