A police search for an armed robber believed hiding near the C&O Canal in Georgetown was disrupted by something on the order of a large rat, which chased one officer part way up a tree.

The officer drew his gun and fired vainly at the critter, which he says was a rat (although the city's rat expert thinks it was an irate opossum.) When the smoke cleared, both human and nonhuman suspects had escaped.

According to police officials, the incident began when undercover officers saw three gunmen hold up a couple on Potomac Street near N Street NW about 10 p.m. Wednesday. The officers chased the suspects toward the canal, catching two of them and recovering a gun.

Officer Mike Gallahan, a 12-year veteran, said he joined the search for the third suspect in a dark, overgrown, trash-filled area near the canal between 33rd and 34th streets NW.

"I was climbing through the rubble, and stepped over some tree roots and into the den of some animal," said Gallahan. "Whatever it was jumped up and grabbed my pant leg. I screamed for the other guys and tried to kick it off my leg.

"I kicked it loose and tried to climb the tree but there weren't any branches down low. And the thing, I think it was a rat, it was the size of a small cat, came up the tree after me. I wasn't very far up the tree and it grabbed my foot. I kicked it but it wouldn't let go."

Gallahan, who said he knows about the danger of rabid animals, said he did not want to get bitten. "I fired two quick rounds at it and it still hung on. I started to fall from the tree and I fired one more shot and it let go and went back into its hole."

Gallahan said he ran from the area, tumbled off a retaining wall and fell 20 feet to the towpath below.

"I didn't get hurt. I was too scared to get hurt," said Gallahan, whose superiors call him a good officer who is not easily intimidated.

Officer Bob Rau and his K-9 dog King were also in on the search. "It was darker than hell back in there," he said. "All of a sudden, I hear 'pow, pow, pow' and I start running with King toward the sound. I figured we got the guy. Then Gallahan gets on the radio and says he had fired the shots, but not at the suspect. He said, 'I shot a rat.' "

"I had no choice but use my gun," Gallahan said. "I was afraid of getting bit. We don't carry night sticks or Mace. For us plainclothes officers it is either hand-to-hand combat or using the service revolver."

James E. Murphy, the city's rat control expert, said there aren't that many rats in Georgetown and they are seldom aggressive. "I suspect that the officer encountered a opossum," he said. D.C. Police Officer Treed by Animal Was It a Rat or an Opossum? By Linda Wheeler Washington Post Staff Writer

A police search for an armed robber believed hiding near the C&O Canal in Georgetown was disrupted by something on the order of a large rat, which chased one officer part way up a tree.

The officer drew his gun and fired vainly at the critter, which he says was a rat (although the city's rat expert thinks it was an irate opossum.) When the smoke cleared, both human and nonhuman suspects had escaped.

According to police officials, the incident began when undercover officers saw three gunmen hold up a couple on Potomac Street near N Street NW about 10 p.m. Wednesday. The officers chased the suspects toward the canal, catching two of them and recovering a gun.

Officer Mike Gallahan, a 12-year veteran, said he joined the search for the third suspect in a dark, overgrown, trash-filled area near the canal between 33rd and 34th streets NW.

"I was climbing through the rubble, and stepped over some tree roots and into the den of some animal," said Gallahan. "Whatever it was jumped up and grabbed my pant leg. I screamed for the other guys and tried to kick it off my leg.

"I kicked it loose and tried to climb the tree but there weren't any branches down low. And the thing, I think it was a rat, it was the size of a small cat, came up the tree after me. I wasn't very far up the tree and it grabbed my foot. I kicked it but it wouldn't let go."

Gallahan, who said he knows about the danger of rabid animals, said he did not want to get bitten. "I fired two quick rounds at it and it still hung on. I started to fall from the tree and I fired one more shot and it let go and went back into its hole."

Gallahan said he ran from the area, tumbled off a retaining wall and fell 20 feet to the towpath below.

"I didn't get hurt. I was too scared to get hurt," said Gallahan, whose superiors call him a good officer who is not easily intimidated.

Officer Bob Rau and his K-9 dog King were also in on the search. "It was darker than hell back in there," he said. "All of a sudden, I hear 'pow, pow, pow' and I start running with King toward the sound. I figured we got the guy. Then Gallahan gets on the radio and says he had fired the shots, but not at the suspect. He said, 'I shot a rat.' "

"I had no choice but use my gun," Gallahan said. "I was afraid of getting bit. We don't carry night sticks or Mace. For us plainclothes officers it is either hand-to-hand combat or using the service revolver."

James E. Murphy, the city's rat control expert, said there aren't that many rats in Georgetown and they are seldom aggressive. "I suspect that the officer encountered a opossum," he said.