City Desk

Want to Know How to Get Rid of Rats? Ask the Peeman.

Rats hanging out in cars and eating essential parts is a common enough problem in the District of Columbia. As City Desk previously chronicled, it happens in Adams Morgan. It happens at 15th and U. Kathryn Kailian, an esthetician who lives in Dupont Circle, had to take her car in six times for service because of rat damage. At one point, she submitted a claim for the $1,200 her dealership charged to completely re-wire her vehicle. "Our insurance company dropped us," she says.

Fed up, Kailian Googled for solutions and found coyote pee. She ordered a bottle of it on the Internet, sprayed it on her engine, and hasn't had a problem since. One bottle will last her "for years" since she only spritzes every few months. The smell dissipates pretty quickly and the rats have left her alone, despite the fact that she parks in an alley with Dumpsters filled by Five Guys, Chipotle, Cosi, and other delicious-to-rats restaurants.

But how does a seller of coyote piss collect coyote piss?

For the answer, I turn to the self-described "peeman," Ken Johnson, who has been in the urine business for more than 20 years. Johnson, 57, has a wife, three daughters, and a nice house in Maine, all supported by the sale of animal waste.

He asserts the products at predatorpee.com—whether from wolf, bobcat, fox, or mountain lion—are the real stuff, not synthetic, and not dressed-up dog pee (although dog pee is for sale, too, to help Rags figure out where he should go). How it works is only slightly mysterious.

Johnson has contracts with zoos and wildlife preserves "all over the country" whose employees collect animals' pee, mostly in drains inside the exhibits. The mysterious part is where these places are. Johnson doesn't like to get specific. "We've run into problems with PETA people," he says.

His site cautions that all of the suppliers are regulated by state and local agencies and that the animals are treated humanely. He says in a phone interview that no one is pumping them with water or Budweiser to make them go.

Basically, it's a moneymaker for nonprofits, a moneymaker for Johnson, and a solution for people, like Kailian, who've had it. In Florida, coyote pee wards off iguanas. In Japan, wolf pee keeps wild boar out of rice paddies. And for anywhere there are "unwanted people or animals," Johnson's newest product is Skunk 'Em, a proven agent to stop loiterers, he says. What works for what pest depends on the food chain. For example, somewhere inside an urban rat's brain is a primal fear of a coyote, even though that coyote probably never roamed anywhere near where the rat has ever lived.

As for making his living from piss, the Peeman's got a healthy sense of humor about it (his daughters, however—ranging in age from 15 to 32—are pretty much mortified). After fielding the question about how he gets the pee more times than he can recall, he created a spot on his site that details "How I Became a Urine Collector" by "P. Catcher." It runs alongside a testimonial written from the coyote's perspective.

Trained as a marketer, Johnson acquired the company in 1986 from a former client. Back then, the products were bought primarily by hunters to attract deer. But Johnson started noticing that people in nonrural areas were buying his products—suburban gardeners were an early indication of wider applications.

Then there was the spike Predatorpee got when Dave Barry included bobcat pee in his annual gift guide, which runs in the Washington Post Magazine. "People wanted to buy it for their lawyers, for their ex-wives," says Johnson.

And then, Al Gore invented the Internet and Predatorpee began flowing like never before.

These days, the urine is sold exclusively online and comes in several forms. A spray bottle of coyote piss runs $25.99, plus S&H.

Johnson has an office/warehouse on his 40 acres outside of Bangor, a good distance form the house. He's become desensitized, to some degree, to the smell. "Probably more so than my wife," he says. "She knows when I've been working with Skunk 'Em."

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