“It’s a beautiful home,” Sieg Alshuth, Jr. says. “I won’t say where, but they’ve got housekeepers and landscapers. In a year we’ve caught over two hundred rats there.

“That’s my record.”

He cites a commercial kitchen, again no location given, as generating almost as many.

Since 1999, Sieg’s Abatement Service has been helping residents in Sonoma and Marin counties get rid of rodents, animals, birds and snakes—creatures who’ve decided your home sweet home should be theirs as well.

Business is good these days. Rats are becoming unwelcome guests in or around more and more homes, Sieg says, plus it’s breeding season for skunks and raccoons.

And, homes are selling again, and with that come “stricter guidelines. Banks require inspections before loaning money,” he says. “They want zero evidence of rats in the home. So we’re not only rat proofing and trapping, we’re cleaning out crawl spaces and attics of all evidence of nests and droppings.”

Sieg, 50, doesn’t do it alone. He’s got four “fearless workers,” as he calls them. “They’ll crawl anywhere, and they’re not scared of anything. Rats jumping on us, falling on us. You name it: we’ve had it happen.” He pauses. “If I had one of my guys here, we could sit and swap rat stories.”

So how does a former commercial fisherman get into this line of work?

After 15 years on salmon and crab fishing boats in Alaska, Sieg had enough of that adventure and returned to Marin, where he’d grown up, working in his father’s automotive repair shop in Novato. “He serviced a fleet of pest control trucks, and they had bundles of fishing nets in one truck because they did pigeon control in San Francisco. They didn’t have anyone to repair the nets. Well, that was second nature to me.”

As a pest control technician, “I threw out poison, sprayed pesticides, but I figured out we should be trapping, not dealing with dead, rotten rats. That was horrible for homeowners.”

So he began using traps only and rat proofing homes and businesses. “After four years, I got my own license,” he says. “I knew there was a niche.”

Rattus rattus, the roof rats that enjoy Sonoma County’s bounty quite as much as humans, are known, Sieg says, as “yuppie rats.

“They’re picky about what they eat. It’s rarely garbage and filth. Vegetable gardens, fruit trees, bird feeders and pet food left outdoors are the main causes of most rat problems. A backyard environment offers everything they need and even if you don’t, your neighbor does.”

You don’t need to turn your yard into a concrete slab to make it unattractive to rats, he says. “There’s nothing wrong with having fruit trees and vegetables, just keep things trimmed, practice yard maintenance. Prune your trees regularly: you’ll have better looking trees and, although there will be less fruit, it will be larger.”

Construction deficiencies can be a problem. “If a house is built right to start with, there wouldn’t be so many pests.” And often, he says, utility workers, rather than crawl under a house, “will poke a hole in a ventilation screen and not fix it.” His recommendation, again, is maintenance. “If you have someone come to your house to fix or install something, walk out and examine what they did, don’t ignore it.”

When getting rid of raccoons and skunks, Sieg and his crew inspect the building and find out how they get access. They’ll construct a one-way door that allows the animal to get out, but not back in. Then they’ll block the access.

Possums, he says, are easy to control. “I can walk up and grab one—with gloves, of course. They’re docile creatures, but they look hideous. That’s part of their protection.” He laughs and tells the story of a friend who knew he had a possum living in his house, eating the catfood. He’d seen the possum but couldn’t catch it, nor figure out where it lived. “This went on for three months,” Sieg says, “until the guy was sitting in his La-Z-Boy one evening and felt something moving underneath him.”

Although he admits his job can be tough, unpleasant and smelly, “We enjoy what we do. There’s a sense of satisfaction when we solve the problem, do something others don’t do, or don’t want to do. We like being those guys. Crawl spaces can be nasty. There are lots of pest control guys who won’t crawl under a house, but that’s the only way to get the job done.”

Sieg is an animal lover, “I respect the rat greatly.” To deal with them, “you need to learn how to think like a rat, get inside the rat’s head, figure out its pathways and food sources. I call it urban hunting.” And, he adds, “Anyone who says they know everything about rat control is lying. I learn something new every day.”

And, he says, “If you don’t have rats, your neighbor probably does.”

To learn more, visit siegsabatement.net.