Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

By Sean Gorman January 23, 2012

Cuccinelli says D.C. council has banned lethal trapping of rats

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli smells a rat.

He is outraged by a law passed by the District of Columbia’s city council in 2010 that regulates how exterminating companies capture pests.

Cuccinelli, a Republican, has been sharply critical of the Occupy movement, an international grassroots protest largely directed at corporate power. During two recent interviews, Cuccinelli has discussed published reports about an increase in rat populations around Occupy DC camps a few blocks from the White House. Then he’s turned to the D.C. pest-control law and painted it as an example of ridiculous regulation.

The D.C. law "doesn’t allow them to kill the dang rats," Cuccinelli said in a Jan. 13 interview with, a conservative web site. "They have to capture them, and capture them in families."

Cuccinelli said the law requires relocation of the trapped rats and voiced concern that D.C. exterminators would transport vermin across the Potomac River and set them free in Virginia.  As a last case resort, he said, the law allows euthanizing pests.

Cuccinelli took a similar swipe at the law in a Jan. 10 interview on WMAL radio. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh picked up on Cuccinelli’s comments and pilloried the statute and its author - D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh.

We were curious whether D.C. really does require rats to be captured by non-lethal means. So we scurried for an answer.

The seven-page law cited by Cuccinelli does prohibit pest control companies operating in DC from using various traps to catch some kinds of urban wildlife such as raccoons, possums and skunks. In these cases, it forbids pest control companies from setting traps using glue, snares, leg holds, harpoon, and body crushing devices.

The law also calls for catching animals alive and relocating whole pest families when possible. Though "non-lethal means" is listed in the law as the preferred way for dealing with city wildlife, it does allow for euthanasia techniques based on recommendations from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

But here’s the catch: The pardon does not extend to rats in D.C.

Kiara Pesante, Cheh’s director of communications, noted that the first page of the law specifically exempts "commensal rodents" -- common rats and mice that pilfer human food.

So it seemed that Cuccinelli got it wrong. We called his office for an explanation.

Brian J. Gottstein, Cuccinelli’s director of communications, acknowledged the law exempts some rats and mice species, but stressed it would still regulate trapping other "non-commensal" rodents, including the rice rat and the deer mouse.

We spoke to officials at the National Pest Management Association, the Humane Society of the United States and the D.C. Department of Health. They all said they are not aware of rice rats existing in Washington. Wikipedia says the rice rat dwells in wetlands through most of the eastern U.S. There are deer mice, and during colder months they do get into homes in leafy areas around the capital, such as Rock Creek Park.

But a deer mouse is not a rat. In his comments to, Cuccinelli talked about rats and made no distinction among them. He said the law calls for live trapping of "these rats" while discussing vermin populations around the Occupy D.C. camps.

"The rat that we find in D.C. is indeed the Norway rat," said Najma Roberts, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Health.

The Norway rat is a commensal rodent and the critters are not protected by D.C. law.

Our ruling:

Cuccinelli said a D.C. law passed in 2010 forbids lethal trapping of rats.

But the law doesn’t pertain to the common type of rat living in the nation’s capital. That particular vermin, the Norway rat, can still be caught using lethal means.

Cuccinelli’s spokesman said the law would still regulate catching another type of rat - the rice rat. But there’s no evidence those rats exist in the city.

The attorney general made no distinction among rats in his comments. We think most listeners would conclude from his comments that the D.C. council by and large has repealed the death penalty for rats.

That’s wrong and ridiculous. We rate Cuccinelli’s claim Pants on Fire.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources, "VA AG fears DC law may relocate rat ‘families’ to Virginia," Jan. 13, 2012.

Washington D.C., Wildlife Protection Act of 2010, accessed Jan. 19, 2012.

E-mails from Brian Gottstein, spokesman for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Jan. 18, 2012.

Interview with John Hadidian, senior scientist for wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States, Jan. 19, 2012.

Interviews with Gene Harrington, director of government affairs at the National Pest Management Association, January 19 and Jan. 20, 2012.

Interview with Scott Giocoppo, vice president of external affairs at the Washington Humane Society, January 19, 2012.

Ken Cuccinnelli’s letter to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Sept. 26, 2011.

USDA letter to Ken Cuccinelli, March 29, 2011.

Interviews with Kiara Pesante, spokeswoman for D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, Jan.18-20, 2012.

E-mails from Kiara Pesante, January 18-19, 2012.

Interview with Najma Roberts, spokeswoman for the Washington D.C. Department of Health, January 20, 2011.

Washington Post, "D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh gets the Rush Limbaugh treatment,"  January 16, 2012.

WMAL Radio, interview with Ken Cuccinelli, January 10, 2012.

Washington Post, "City’s critters win protections," October 5, 2010.

DCist, "Cuccinelli uncovers our massive D.C. rat smuggling ring," January 12, 2012., Cucinnelli fears flood of rats, vermin from DC, January 16, 2012.

Washington City Paper, Mary Cheh gets Limbaughed,January 16, 2012.

D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, "Councilmember Cheh laments the state of public discourse," January 19, 2012.

The Humane Society of the United States, Facts on the Wildlife Protection Act, accessed January 19, 2012.

The Washington Post, Mary Cheh feels Rush Limbaugh-fueled rat backlash, January 19, 2012.

Environmental Protection Agency, Rodenticide Cluster, July 1998.

The Rush Limgaugh show, "Washington DC law forces exterminators to capture and relocate rats," January 16, 2012.

WMAL, The Morning Majority, January 10, 2012.

Wikipedia, Marsh rice rat, accessed Jan. 20, 2011.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Sean Gorman

Cuccinelli says D.C. council has banned lethal trapping of rats

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up