Ronan the Record Rat Catcher

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The mutual respect between Tim Temple and his dog, Ronan, is easy to see. Tim and Ronan have been together for eight years. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

One of Capitol Hill’s most magnificent and beautiful dogs lives on Ninth Street SE.  Weighing in at 105 pounds, he is hard to miss. His dark red, silky coat shimmers in the sunlight when he runs, and when he gets going his speed is remarkable. His friendly bark is deep when greeting you at his front gate.

His name is Ronan, an Irish saint’s name for this remarkable Irish Setter. The name means “little seal,” says Tim Temple, Ronan’s human companion. Ronan and Tim have been together for eight years and have developed a deep bond.

Ronan began his life in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  He is Tim’s sixth Irish setter. Why Irish setters? “My ex-wife had an Irish setter in her childhood, and we found a female setter at the DC Humane Society shelter,” says Tim, “so our first setter was a rescue.”

Soon to follow was a second setter, Rosco, who had been a runaway. That pair of Setters made Tim a lifelong fan of the breed.

The Irish Setter Breed
Tim says Ronan is very typical of the breed. He is very affectionate and judging from the number of licks to my face when we first met, he is happy to greet you. Tim says he trained Ronan early on to follow both hand and voice commands and he has never been put on a leash. “None of my Irish Setters has ever crossed a street without a command,” Tim reflects. Ronan is the smartest of all the setters Tim has had, he said.

The American Kennel Club started recognizing the breed in 1878. Today, the breed is listed as number 71 out of 287 popular breeds. The Irish setter is a gun dog and a good family dog. Its red flowing coat makes it one of the most beautiful dogs leading to its frequent use in fashion photographs. It has a high-spirited nature and has been described as a “rollicking dog.” To keep Ronan looking good, Tim gives him a good brushing once a week.

Another good trait of this breed is that it doesn’t shed fur. “I can tell you, as the owner of Splash Car Wash for years, I have seen a lot of dog hair and golden retrievers hands down are the worse shedders of all dogs,” Tim says.

Ronan the Rat Champ
Ronan started his rat catching career as a young pup at Splash. The car wash had several large trash cans stationed at the beginning of the car wash’s cleaning loop.

Ronan on the hunt. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

“Splash was also neighbors with McDonalds, so we had quite a bit of food debris showing up in our trash cans,” Temple said. One day, Ronan sniffing at the trash can flushed out a rat that sprung out of the can into the air. Ronan was positioned in just the right place to catch it and threw it up in the air.

“All my Hispanic staff stopped and cheered Ronan on, shouting Ole! Ole!” Tim recalls. From that beginning, Ronan launched his rat catching career, tallying up 27 rats before Splash closed in 2021 after 25 years in business.

Today, Ronan continues his hunting skills now at a new location, Garfield Park. The park, named for President Garfield, is located at the intersection of 2nd Street and G Streets SE. Tim credits the shape of the trash cans as an element in Ronan’s success.

Garfield Park is operated by DC’s Parks and Recreation and is a 7.1-acre neighborhood park. Ronan loves to run through the park and hunts down rats that have settled into the trashcans. “It is quite a sight to see,” says Tim. Most of the time the rats are killed by Ronan, and Tim scoops them up with his blue New York Times plastic bag and deposits the dead rat back into the trashcan.

The trash barrels at a local park are built in a way that makes it easy for Ronan to tip the can and reach the rats. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Ronan’s escapades happen at night. “Rats are nocturnal” says Tim. So, he and Ronan wait until the sun has set to begin their adventures. Ronan runs back and forth between the 17 trashcans  in the park and is totally worn out at the end of his visit. It certainly keeps him in great shape.

Tim says his neighbor has decided that the rat record of Ronan should be thought of by using Roman numerals. His accomplishments are special and indeed noteworthy.

As of June 15th, Ronan’s rat record is XXX. Yes, Ronan has sniffed out and disposed of 30 rats in Garfield Park.

Thanks to Ronan – and Tim – for this remarkable community service.

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Dogs Catching Rats: A Note of Caution

Some dogs have been bred to hunt and kill rodents. But, especially in the the urban setting, one has to be alert to protecting the dog’s health. Rats may have been poisoned because of the city’s health abatement program. They may also carry other diseases that could be passed on to the dog.

Dr. Allison Gross, Medical Director of Union Vet Clinic (609 Second St. NE) says in her 16 years at Union Vet she has never seen a case of a dog poisoned by eating a rat, but that it could happen. “I have had several cases of dogs being scratched on the nose or face by a rat,” says Dr. Gross. “Being treated quickly helps avoid an infection.”

A dog would need to digest the entire rat to become sick. It can take two to three days for a rat to digest the poison and the toxin remains in the rat’s digestive system for that period. If a dog eats the rat, it could ingest the poison. There are different types of poison with the anticoagulants like bromadiolone the most lethal.

“It would take a higher dose than usually used for it to harm a dog,” says Dr. Gross, “but, owners should really try and keep the dog from eating a rat.”

If the dog also encounters the urine of the rat, it can be exposed to a disease called Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that causes acute kidney failure and liver disease in dogs. The early signs can be fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea or a cough.

“Early detection is important,” says Dr. Gross. “So, I would always bring your pet in if they have had an encounter with a rat and are showing unusual signs.”
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Rindy O’Brien has yet to meet a dog she doesn’t like. To contact Rindy, rindyobrien@gmail.com