SHIRLEY -- A family says it has been driven out of its home by a rat infestation that has plagued numerous residents for months, but which they say has not been addressed by the town.
Eric and Lindsay Calderwood and their three young children have moved in with relatives in another town.
Lindsay Calderwood told the Board of Selectmen on Monday night that one child was hospitalized for several days, and they were worried his condition might have been worsened, if not caused by, the rodent problem.
Lindsay Calderwood read excerpts from a five-page letter to the Board of Health, which describes a nightmarish scenario inside their Deer Avenue home, backed up with photos: rats chewing into cabinets, through wiring, nesting in the house.
She said the family has taken steps to get rid of the rats, from spreading poison outside to setting traps inside and also plugged up visible entry points all over but nothing worked.
"At this point, we decided that our home was not a safe living environment," she said. So they "evacuated."
Most of the people who packed the meeting room Monday night live in dense neighborhoods off Lancaster Road, where they say the rodent problem has become so severe that the neighborhood is overrun, particularly between Deer and Brook avenues.
The Calderwoods' letter includes a list of testimonials from several others in the neighborhood who sketched similar troubles, indoors and out.
Some of those testimonials included complaints that town officials have been difficult to deal with and that little is being done to help.
Town officials agreed that the Calderwoods' problem is not isolated, and that something must be done.
Joseph Howlett of the Board of Health denied that his board had not done enough to solve the problem after taking steps to address it over the summer.
Board members and the town's sanitation agent, Ira Grossman, of the Nashoba Area Boards of Health investigated. The board sent letters to the neighbors and spoke to residents about issues that can lead to rodent infestation, such as trash and debris in yards and food set outside for birds and animals.
Those things must be cleaned up, neighbors were told at the time. If rats can't find food in an area, they leave, the health board said.
But when it comes to rats in the house, Howlett said that's another matter. But either way, it's food they are after. "People have to be aware ..." he said. "How you handle trash is so important."
If rats are getting inside, it's key to look for entry points and fix them, he said, such as holes in the foundation, rotted sills and other gaps where animals can get in, he said.
The Calderwoods said they've done all that and more, including spending $1,200 on exterminations and repairs. Now, they want the town to help them.
So do the other residents, including a man who lives on the other side of town, in the Acme Trailer Park off Great Road. Rats are getting into his home, too, he said, and it's harder to rat-proof than a traditional house.
He, too, said he complained to the health board and has not seen any action.
Howlett and the selectmen assured everyone in the room that they will help.
Selectman Enrico Cappucci said the board can ask Town Meeting for funding, if needed, but first, they need to have a plan in place.
For starters, they agreed to form a committee consisting of representatives from their respective boards and headed up by Town Administrator Mike McGovern, with resident "liaisons."
Howlett said after the meeting that his board aims to resolve the matter.
"We can solve this problem if we all work together," he said.