This article was originally published on VICE Germany.
As a professional exterminator, Tina spends her days battling wasps, cockroaches, mice, hoarders’ homes and filthy restaurant kitchens. She described this job as “cool”, which came as something of a surprise.
I gave her a call to find out why she loves what she does, and to ask her about the worst stuff she’s witnessed.
VICE: Hey, Tina. Do you think rat poison is cruel?
Tina: Rat poison prevents blood clotting and causes rats to bleed to death internally. Mostly, rats leave the area to die. The poison takes a while to kick in, otherwise other rats would stop eating at the bait station if they saw another rat had just died there. Rats are relatively smart. When I think about it, I feel guilty.
"I know it's stupid, but I'm terrified of spiders."
How often are you called in to supermarkets or restaurants?
Quite often, and often as a precaution. In supermarkets, rats and mice can hide under the big shelves. That’s why we check once a month to see if anything has been eaten at the bait stations, or if insects are stuck to the sticky strip. Then we can act quickly.
There are restaurants that look great from the outside, but are terrible on the inside. Most of the time this has nothing to do with pests, but just filth. If you saw what was going on beneath their shelves, you wouldn’t want to eat there. Friends often ask me where they shouldn’t eat. But we have a kind of confidentiality agreement, so I can’t say. I can still recommend restaurants, though.
What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever experienced at work?
My threshold for disgusting things is pretty high, but I do struggle with smells. As soon as you step into a place, you can smell if there’s a carcass in the cellar. You never forget that smell.
I’ve been to some pretty disgusting flats, so I’m never surprised if there are infestations. My colleague once went to an apartment and the rats were basically waving at him from the window.
Do you feel guilty for mass killing insects?
There are spaces in which you really don’t need insects, like kitchens or restaurants. I think it’s OK to kill them if it’s a health issue.
Sometimes I do feel guilty about wasp nests. They’re not just crappy and annoying – they’re useful. Wasps pollinate flowers, too. I always try to come up with alternatives for my clients, but most people just don’t have a lot of time for wasps.
Are you afraid of anything you work with?
I know it sounds stupid, but I’m really terrified of spiders. I live alone, and whenever I see a big spider I’m just really useless. I’m paralysed with fear.
Why do you do the job? Are you paid really well?
It’s a manual job, so it’s not paid very much. But you can make a good living from it. I fell into the job by chance, but I think it’s cool. Even filthy rodent jobs can be different every time.
Plus, every assignment involves a bit of detective work. If a customer calls saying they’ve been hearing weird noises coming from the roof, I get to look for clues. I find that exciting. And I get to access areas you wouldn’t normally be able to, like restaurant kitchens or private apartments.
"I think mice and rats are really cute."
Haven’t rats and pigeons already won the battle in cities?
Yes. We’ll never be able to eliminate them entirely. They’ve figured out that there’s lots to eat on the street. They’re survival artists, but now they’ve adapted to urban life I don’t think they could survive without us.
What was the most unnecessary assignment you’ve been called out to?
An elderly gentleman once came to me because he’d been hearing noises in his apartment. So I drove over. We heard a “beep” and he said: “There it is again!” I looked at the ceiling and said: “I think you need to change the batteries in your smoke alarm.” It was hard not to laugh.
Do you have rats, mice or cockroaches at your place?
No. But I actually think mice and rats are really cute, and I always wanted one as a kid. Unfortunately, my parents would never let me.
Do you ever blame your clients for their infestation problems?
Yep, for example when people keep throwing their rubbish next to the bins. If clients don’t cooperate, it can make my job really difficult, especially since mice and rats reproduce so quickly. Mice have four to six litters a year, with up to eight babies every time. And they’re sexually mature after around two months, so you can imagine how quickly that adds up.