By Mandi Bierly
Updated July 03, 2007 at 12:00 PM EDT

I know what you’re thinking: Slow news day. True, but I’ve long wanted to launch the EW Experts Corner, a place where the people who send us unsolicited emails pitching their expertise on vaguely entertainment-related topics that we would never cover can speak their piece. Why start with the National Pest Management Association (NPMA)? Because: (a) I hadn’t thought of this bit when the makers of slimming Spanx bodywear made certain that we knew that Jessica Alba trusted her Fantastic Four figure to them, and (b) the NPMA email— subject line: Pests and Rodents as Movie Stars!— arrived in my inbox right after the meeting in which the staff had joked about doing a photo gallery of our favorite rodents on film (and assistant managing editor Dawnie Walton sighed so sweetly when someone mentioned Scabbers).

Also, unlike most of the folks who email us, the NPMA actually acknowledged that their pitch was a stretch, referencing “EW’s willingness to present interesting angles on movies,” which made me like them even more. So, without further adieu, a conversation with the delightful Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the NPMA.

Have you seen Ratatouille yet?I have not seen it yet, but I want to. I know it made what, over $47 million already? (Laughs)

So what does someone in your position think when she hears that there’s a movie about a rat who becomes a world-class chef?
What I find fascinating right now, and it’s happening between that movie and Over the Hedge, is there’s so much focus on these little critters, particularly in children’s movies. From a pop-culture stand point, there’s always been a lot of interest in bugs and critters — if you go from one of my all-time favorite movies, the original Fly from 1958, and look how nasty that was, to now, where you’ve got these cute little critters running around. I think it’s as fun as the next person to see [Ratatouille], but I do look at it as an opportunity to talk about the fact that, “Hey, these are really fun things out there to look at, like a zoo in your backyard — but you don’t want to play with them.” From my perspective, critters that are out in the environment, in the place where they live and belong, that’s very cool. But when they do come into your home — and I really don’t want to be a downer here — you really don’t want them there. If a raccoon sets up shop in your house or squirrels end up in your home, they chew wires, they chew installation, they chew through ceilings. They cause a significant amount of damage. And they can be a health threat. So what I’d hate to see is kids actually thinking, “Oh, aren’t these just darling?” and “Let me go play with them,” and they’re bitten.

So you’d recommend that parents, who take their kids to see Ratatouille, reinforce the idea that rats aren’t typically that talented, and if you see one inside…
Tell mommy and daddy immediately, ’cause if they’re in the house, they’re scared and they could try to bite you if you try to trap them. Even mice. Mice are darling to some children and mice are darling when they’re outside — but when they’re in your house, they carry so many diseases…

Why do you think pest/rodent plotlines are so popular these days
? I don’t know. Last year, I had four calls from production companies that wanted to do TV series on “the bug guy.” They come to us because they’re looking for a real pest-control professional, a sort of Crocodile Dundee of bugs. They all essentially say the same thing: “Give us your worst infestation and show us how you treat it. But we want it to be fun and we want the person to have personality.” We have some characters, as you can imagine, that I think would be very good. Last summer, about this time, we did a casting call (laughs) at one of our meetings. One of these production companies showed up and made tapes. A lot of our guys, they run their own businesses, they can’t really afford to give up three or four months to go be a movie star.

Everyone thinks of this industry as being predominantly male. Is it?It is, and boy, would we love to get more women in this industry. Women don’t understand that it is very women-friendly — you make your own hours. It’s no longer a spray industry, we call it an “integreated pest management approach,” because so much of it is customer-focused. You teach the customer what they can do: “Hey, we found out where the ants are coming from. Your three-year-old keeps leaving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches behind the curtains, so you need to make sure your child doesn’t do that.” And then you tell them what you’re gonna do in order to eliminate the problem. My guess would be that there’s only 10 or 15 percent women in the industry. There are a couple of women who actually run companies now, which is very cool. One’s running an $85 million company, another one’s running a $15 million company. They’re the daughters of the guys who started the businesses. It’s still tough to get service technicians though who will go out and actually be the face of the industry, but we’re workin’ on it. We’re tryin’.

(Note to those production companies: If you make that a reality show with a pest-control professional teaching pampered celebs like Tori Spelling the tricks of the trade, I might watch one episode of it. And with that realization, I’m crawling back into the hole I came from.)