Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Dave Harper

If you lose or find an animal in Placitas area, call the Animal Hotline at 867-6135. The Hotline is a nonprofit service run by Dave and January Harper to help reunite lost and found pets. Placing a Lost or Found in the Animal Hotline is a free service courtesy of the Signpost—we can sometimes even include a photo. Call Dave and January at 867-6135 or 263-2266 and leave a detailed message, or email the Animal Hotline at: (but call, too).


DOG: Black, female pit bull appears to be six-to-eight weeks old. Mom was white and tan and took off, but left the baby behind. Found near the Placitas Elementary School on July 22. #4061

DOG: Two-to-three-month-old male Lab. Dog went to Watermelon Mountain Ranch on July 21. #4062

DOG: Small, six-to-seven pound dog. Appears to have a Pug face, white with black and grey spots and thin, bushy tail. Found August 1 at trailhead of Forest Lane and Placitas West Road. #4063


TWO DOGS: Mostly black. Appear to be siblings. Seen July 24 off Camino Barranca, up Camino Canon in Placitas. #4064


Animal News


Lalo’s pet prints:

Lalo loves to receive your pet and animal photos to print in the Signpost.
Email them to “Lalo” at:
Or mail prints to: Signpost, P. O. Box 889 Placitas, NM 87043

A packrat captured in Placitas contemplates freedom as it’s released into the wild far from any homes.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Auto wiring fails as pesky packrats move in

—Bill Diven

If the new TV drama about the animal kingdom rising up to battle humans ever becomes reality, packrats from Placitas could lead the charge. Forget their cute faces and twitching whiskers. Think expensive car repairs or clearing nests from inside walls. Oh, and also highway carnage and the plague.

“It never reached that point,” Leland Bowen said when asked if he thought he was going to die when his van suddenly accelerated on its own. “If we’d been on the steep hill above the Chama River, oh, man, that would have been horrific.”

Leland tried fiddling with the cruise control and shifting gears before eventually stopping the Plymouth Voyager van near Abiquiú Lake by turning off the ignition and riding hard on the now-powerless power brakes. He then found a piece of wood jammed between the engine valve cover and the throttle linkage.

“I was thinking, ‘Gosh. If we were in an accident now, no one would know what happened,’” Bunny Bowen said. “They’d think it was careless driving or something medical.”

While the Bowens agree a packrat was the culprit, they don’t know whether the critter added nesting material during their stay at Ghost Ranch or if the wood came from a nest cleaned out of the engine compartment a few weeks earlier. Regardless, they were on the less-traveled way home through Cuba that August day and not heading for Santa Fe on the narrow and winding drop from above Abiquiú Dam to the river valley at the time.

North American deserts host multiple species of desert woodrats, with the white-throated woodrat common across New Mexico and Arizona at elevations below eight thousand feet. It is known as a packrat for its skill at collecting natural and man-made materials to build nests and dens often around cactus. The nests, known as middens, bristle with cactus and cholla pieces used to keep predators away.

Packrats also have discovered engine compartments to be prime habitat. That’s especially true for vehicles not driven every day giving the rat time to settle in and start chewing.

“Vacuum hoses, anything rubber under the hood, wiring, antilock brake wires,” said Eric Flam of Reincarnation Inc. in Albuquerque. “They also like to make nests in the cabin air filter.”

Flam watched numerous vehicles being towed to his shop this summer from Placitas and the East Mountains. The worst case so far was an East Mountain customer with two vehicles needing new wiring harnesses, the bundle of wires controlling multiple operations, he said.

Repairs easily run into hundreds of dollars. And the rats can be persistent returning to the same spot to building anew if they’ve only been chased away.

“It seems like I have a bunch of repeat customers this year,” Flam continued. While the rats add to his bottom line, he said he has no plans to open a shop just to repair animal damage.

So what to do to keep packrats out of engine compartments? Word of mouth spreads multiple solutions:

  • Jim Fish of Anasazi Fields Winery near Placitas village swears by red chile powder. “I just buy the stuff at The Merc; the hottest stuff they have,” he said.
  • For one resident of Ranchos de Placitas it’s solar-battery walkway lights placed in the engine. Others leave their hoods raised and hope for the best.
  • Stop killing the snakes that eat rodents and poisoning rodents that kill the coyotes, who also eat them, added another Placitas resident.
  • Humane trapping has become a hobby for some who then face the issue of where to relocate the transgressors. The forest and open spaces are popular spots although spotty research disagrees over whether you need to go one mile or five miles from existing homes.

After forty years in the business, Richard “Bugman” Fagerlund, who espouses green pest management, agrees with a lot of Placitas residents that poison isn’t the answer, especially for any animal carrying fleas.

“Packrats can carry thirty different kinds of fleas around the state,” he told the Signpost. “Some of those carry plague. If you use rodenticide, the fleas will look for a new host.”

That host can be domestic cats and dogs, he added. Fagerlund also recommends raking out middens before another rat moves in and spraying the material with a water-soap-alcohol solution to kill mites and fleas living there.

New Mexico has recorded two human cases of plague this year, one fatal, in Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. There also have been nine animal cases involving cats, dogs, a rabbit, and a mouse in Santa Fe, Torrance, and Rio Arriba counties, the DOH reported.

Investigators often trace the plague fleas from a family pet back to prairie dogs, skunks, and squirrels that were alive or dead when the pet encountered them.

To prevent damage to vehicle wiring, the Bugman’s preferred method is cotton balls soaked in peppermint essential oil. Placed in plastic cups near engine wiring with the hood closed, the smell keeps the rats away, he said. Additional information on green pest management is available on his website

While the monsoon rains are helping all creatures, Fagerlund said he hasn’t seen a significant boom in the rat population.

No, they’re just always here. And despite what you may see on TV, they aren’t really trying to kill you. At least not deliberately.

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