‘We Were Killing Them With These Little Pitchforks’

Photo: Kristen Baldomar

There are few happy stories in the world of rat control, but the Daily News found one on East 86th, between Lexington and Second Avenues. Business owners there credited a single man with decimating a population that had grown so out of control that rats were running over feet: Matt Deodato, rat killer.

Deodato was 18 when he started doing pest control for a living. He’s now 57, works between eight and ten infestations a day, and thanks rats and bedbugs for putting his three kids through college. His business, Urban Pest Management, handles everything from water bugs to pigeons but has recently come to specialize in rats. His weapon of choice: a $2,320 gizmo that shoots carbon monoxide into nests. “We put that hose nozzle into the burrow … Usually within three minutes, the rats are dead.”

I talked to Deodato about New York’s trash-container problems, Curtis Sliwa’s “insane” feral-cat stunt, and why we may never really be rid of the creature that almost got rid of us during the bubonic plague.

Our conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

What’s the rat situation right now in New York City?
I’ve never in my 39 years seen the rat population explode like this. We do private homes in Astoria, Flatbush, Chinatown — I can name every neighborhood. Every one of them has seen such an influx. We’re almost overwhelmed with it.

Seems bad.
We thought during the pandemic things would’ve gotten better, but they seemed to thrive. They actually became Lord of the City. Their territory expanded because they had to search for food. And there was endless harboring: Outdoor sheds became nesting areas. And cars! They go in there because it’s warm, and the inside insulation or wiring is made of vegetable oil and they chew on the wires.

Where is most of your business coming from right now? 
We mostly do residential jobs, but when it comes to businesses right now, we’re mostly helping restaurants. We’re on a site right now on West 18th Street where out front there’s a tree pit. There has to be four or five burrows there where these rats are popping up from a connecting drain sewer. Through the glass window, people at the restaurants just look out and see the rats running back and forth. It’s kind of funny.

What do you think of Eric Adams’s plan to change the time of garbage pickup? The administration also seems to be at least somewhat interested in containerization.
Rats adapt to any time frame. You throw your garbage out at midnight, they’ll just come out at 12. It’s almost like ringing a dinner bell.

As far as the container — I do buildings in Manhattan, like the Corinthian on 38th Street, with 960 apartments in that building, or the Pavilion with 680. The amount of garbage pails you’d need for buildings of this size would take up half a block. And these aren’t cheap containers; they can run $200, $300 each. Imagine if you’re robbed. It could be tens of thousands a year on top of everything else these buildings pay for. That disposal change the city is talking about isn’t going to happen.

What about what Curtis Sliwa did the other day: bringing cats to the mayor’s house?
Cats are a natural predator — that is a true fact. A rat will not cohabitate with a cat. But if a cat is well fed, they’ll use a rat as a play toy running around, but they won’t use it as a food source. And cats today find other food around. So that whole idea was insane.

So you use gas instead of feral cats.
The BurrowRx is a gassing system that kicks out carbon monoxide. When we have a customer calling us, saying, “There’s a pit in front of our house, and nothing seems to be working,” we go down there, bring our BurrowRx machine with a 20-foot rubber hose connected to an exhaust pipe. We put that hose nozzle into the burrow and use a tracer smoke; it comes out of the machine with the carbon monoxide. We watch where the smoke comes out of, and it gives us an indication where there are other exits. We cover that so they only have one exit.

Usually within three minutes, the rats are dead. But if your house is on fire, you’re going to run out of the house. Right away when we turn the machine on, nothing happens, but once they start choking, the rats pour out of the burrows. A mother will leave their young; an alpha rat will leave the rest of the nest. I’ve had them come up right where the hose is. They’re survivors.

From left: Deodato using the BurrowRx to kill rats with carbon monoxide. Photo: Kristen BaldomarA hose runs between the BurrowRx and a rat nest. Photo: Kristen Baldomar
From left: Deodato using the BurrowRx to kill rats with carbon monoxide. Photo: Kristen BaldomarA hose runs between the BurrowRx and a rat nest. Photo... From left: Deodato using the BurrowRx to kill rats with carbon monoxide. Photo: Kristen BaldomarA hose runs between the BurrowRx and a rat nest. Photo: Kristen Baldomar

What do you do then?
We were killing them with these little pitchforks and this garden thing we use to collapse the burrows. You’re physically seeing how many rats there are in these tree pits. So people see the result. You’re seeing dead rats in front of you.

It’s not that humane, maybe, but it’s efficient.
It’s efficient.

What has the job taught you about the psychology of rats?
I’ve learned mostly never to underestimate a rat. I’ve seen them do things I never thought any living creature could do, and what I’ve learned most is they’re the ultimate survivor. They’ve been — it’s hard to say, but — unstoppable. This is the same rat that wiped out half of Europe with the bubonic plague.

Do you admire them in a way?
I do admire them. When you think a rat only lives one year — that’s their whole life span — what it does in one year is pretty impressive.

They just keep adapting, adapting, adapting. They learn. I’ll tell you a perfect example: They teach their young not to go into a garbage pail unless there’s a bag in it because they can use the bag as a ladder to claw their way out. You’ll see rats jump over glue boards and teach their young to go around them. I’ve seen rats learn to jump out of a dumpster when a garbage truck reverses back into an alley. When the truck backed up, it had a beeping noise. And when they heard the beeping noise, they were jumping out.

God, that’s smart. Do you think we can ever really win this war?
No. I tell people, “There is no such thing as elimination.” If someone says to you, “I guarantee pest elimination,” that’s a lie.

And so we coexist, kind of.
I don’t know what a rat’s purpose is, but they belong to planet Earth. I don’t know why God put them here or why nature put them here. But they’re here.

‘We Were Killing Them With These Little Pitchforks’