Sebastopol man takes on rats with his pack of terriers

Jordan Reed is willing to kill for you.

Kill rats, that is.

Over the past five years, Reed has become a go-to guy for small family farmers throughout Sonoma County who have battled rat infestations.

Reed's self-taught methods do not involve traps or poisons, but flushing the rats out of hiding places under the floors or in the walls of chicken coops, or in and around grain bins or other food sources and trash. His partners are a devoted pack of terrier dogs with names like Monkey Butt and Sir Grumps A Lot, all of which he trains himself.

And, say his clients, it works.

"When he first came here we got something like 80 rats," said Blake Bauer, who raises chickens for eggs and vegetables in Healdsburg. "Now he only comes around for maintenance. My rat problem is pretty much solved."

The 33-year-old South Carolina native is part country renaissance man and part old-school philosopher. By day, Reed is a production assistant and vineyard caretaker for Marimar Estate in Sebastopol where he lives. But he's also a skilled vegetable and poultry farmer, hunter and dog trainer, and he has been studying a New Zealand method of shearing sheep that takes years to master.

He calls his kennel "Jreed and his Mongrol Hoard of Rascally Rat Wranglers" which he says describes his dogs and their purpose. "Mongrol" is a combination of the words Mongol for the "fierce Asian warrior" and mongrol, which he said is modern slang for a person with a poor attitude.

"Terriers are the only class of dog bred to catch and dispatch prey," he said. "They have to have attitude because they have to want to kill. This makes them, in my opinion, unfit to be pets. But they are quite suited to killing rats."

It is a skill that Reed almost learned by accident.

Born on the campus of Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., he attended prep schools on the campus until 1998, when his family relocated to Sonoma County.

His father, Brent, transferred to Windsor to take a high-tech job with Agilent Technologies shortly before Reed entered his junior year in high school. It was a jarring transition for a Son of the South who had been schooled in what he called an educationally demanding and extremely religious environment in a bustling metro area of more than 800,000 people.

"It was a culture shock and more," said Reed. "All my friends, everything I knew was back in Greenville. Windsor was a very small place. I never really adjusted to it."

Reed said his junior year was so hard that he decided to drop out of school as soon as he turned 18, which was October of his senior year.

Reed, who would eventually earn his GED high-school equivalency credential, hitchhiked back to South Carolina, staying with friends for a few months before heading back to California just when his parents were themselves moving east.

But Reed opted to stay in Sonoma County, in part to pursue an education in horticulture, farming and raising livestock and poultry. He enrolled in classes at Santa Rosa Junior College, supporting himself with a number of odd jobs including driving a beer truck and selling RVs. But the day jobs conflicted with his class schedule and since he was on his own, he decided the best way to continue his education was to get his hands really dirty.

So, he began a series of jobs on what he called "hippie" farms, mostly in the west county and out in Bodega — small vegetable, livestock and poultry farms where he could work for food and shelter. And learn.

"I started living on whatever farms would take me," he said. "I lived in a truck, a teepee, a yurt — any kind of place a person could possibly live. I took as many internships as I could and I met people through farmer's markets and other networks that had the same interests as I did."

At one farm in Bodega Bay, where he moved to raise turkeys and chickens, he stumbled onto the idea of hunting rats.

When he would clean out the chicken coops, Reed would find rats under the straw. He would try different methods to get rid of them, including traps and BB guns. But he couldn't make a dent in the population and it became a big problem.

His girlfriend at the time was doing landscaping and one of her clients was what Reed described as a "backyard breeder" of terriers. She gave Reed one of her puppies.

Reed took the terrier home and named her Holy Mole, after the intricate Mexican sauce. Over time and without training, the feisty Holy Mole would catch and kill rats as Reed cleaned the coops out.

"We had a pretty severe rat problem," he said. "When Holy Mole first killed a rat, I thought &‘Wow, that's amazing' and then I realized she was really, really good at it."

Reed, who got a second dog, started asking other poultry farmers if he could hunt rats on their properties. Over time, he said, he began to understand the behavior of the rats and got better at teaching his dogs to go after them.

In a mixture of art and skill, Reed and his dogs start a rat hunt by identifying where the rodents are located. Then, Reed will flush them out of their nests, using water or smoke. As the rats scatter, Reed and his dogs catch them. Some are killed by the dogs, others are killed by Reed and his assistants.

While he advertises on Craigslist, Reed says he still gets a lot of work by referral and through his Facebook page. But he does have a few rules. He'll only work small farms and only on the condition that the farmers provide some labor — many help out themselves. He won't do a job on a farm if the owner won't take steps to make his property as unfriendly to rats as possible. That may mean rebuilding chicken coops to remove areas where rats can crawl into and build nests, clean up trash and make sure grain and feed are stored properly.

"It's a waste of time for me to go out to farms where the rats will just repopulate as soon as I leave," he said. "I've been at some pretty disgusting places."

Reed often works for trade, though he will charge about $75 for three hours of work. He expects to get more calls now that certain rat poisons, known as rodenticides, are set to be banned in California on July 1 for use by anyone but licensed pest terminators. The toxins, which are ingested by rats and cause them to bleed to death, have long been blamed for the deaths of wildlife and domestic animals that eat the dead rats.

Reed bristles somewhat at the contention that he's in the rat-killing business for the blood lust of it. Rats, he says, are dangerous animals that carry disease and disrupt and kill farm animals.

"I hate rats," he said. "But I have a huge amount of respect for them. They are smart, adaptive animals. But they are extremely destructive and dirty. A rat bite could kill or maim or take out a dog's eye."

Reed believes his form of rat catching is humane — their deaths are quick — either dispatched with a boot or a shovel, or by the dogs, who shake them to death or crush them in their powerful jaws.

The dead rats, he says, are left in an area on the vineyard where they feed vultures.

"To paraphrase &‘The Outlaw Josey Wales,' &‘the vultures gotta eat too,'" he said.

Reed, who now owns four dogs, is not a fan of dog breeders in general. He will train and breed dogs for friends on occasion, but he refuses to breed them for sale.

"I don't represent rat terrier as a breed," he said. "The rat terrier is a contemporary dog that is bred for the show ring. They are far removed from their intended purpose, which is to hunt. I call my dogs American Farm Feist, which is what they call them in the south. But it's not a breed per se, it's a purpose. I get a lot of people mad when I talk about this stuff, but I'd never, ever sell a dog. I don't believe in it."

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