By Ken MacLeod

WATERTOWN (CBS) – Something has already nibbled at the uncarved pumpkin on Jesse Hammond’s East Watertown porch – and he suspects he knows the culprit. “I don’t want to have a pumpkin on my porch,” he says, “that’s going to attracting rats every night.”

And with that in mind, the Watertown Health Department is now urging residents to skip the real pumpkins this Halloween – unless they want a parade of disease-toting rats at their doorstep.

“They’re very smart,” says the department’s Deanna Mazina, “and they’re going to go where it’s easiest. They’re going to get the most bang for their buck I guess you could say.”

Bite marks in a pumpkin in Watertown (WBZ-TV)

Like many places, Watertown saw a rat migration during the pandemic – as the rodents abandoned commercial strips that had largely shut down – in favor of nearby residential neighborhoods where they could still find garbage to survive.

Turns out, jack-o-lanterns are a perfect rat food – moist and meaty – the kind of meal that rats tell their friends about.

“And then they’re going to go there – all of them,” says Mazina, “and they’re going to breed like crazy. That’s part of the problem, too.”

It’s an advisory – not a mandate. But health experts are hoping to convince residents to switch their holiday décor – for the public good.

“If the pumpkins are really that much of an issue,” says resident Tara Anson, “there are so many other ways to decorate a porch. I feel like it’s an easy compromise.”

But for some – traditions die hard. So, for those who still opt for the real thing, experts ask it to be put on a porch stand – out of rat reach.

Rats – by the way – have up to a four-foot vertical jump. Better yet – say the experts – bring the pumpkin inside a front window – at least at night when the rodents are most active.

“I can definitely understand we’ve got a rodent issue,” resident Peter Knapp says. “So, I’d be totally down with putting the pumpkin inside.”

While health officials realize not everyone will play ball, they believe that getting even a third of the town onboard will make a dent in the rat buffet.

And Jesse Hammond is among those pledging to help – reluctantly.

“It’s not really a traditional Halloween celebration without a pumpkin,” says Hammond — standing alongside the nibbled gourd on his porch.

“But in this situation, maybe it’s the right thing to do.”

No one expects the rats will vanish – it’s just one tool against the invasion of trick-or-treaters – who never knock.

Ken MacLeod