THE CHICAGO RAT PROBLEM
Mark Twain once said, “ She is always a novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time.”This is probably why the Windy City gets an average of 35 million visitors every year. But, if there is one thing Mark Twain and the city’s millions of visitors might not like about the city is its problem with rats.
You heard that right – rats. Stand on any alleyway around the city for half a minute and we bet your socks you will see one scampering for the waste bin if you’re lucky, or for your feet if you’re not. It does not help that Animal Planet has named Chicago one of the top ten worst rat cities in the world.
Drat those Rats!
Rats have been having a close relationship with the human race for many years. It goes without saying that the relationship is one-sided, with us humans not getting anything from our pesky rodent companions, while they savor every minute as they pillage our cupboards, contaminate our water supply, bring damage to our homes and property, and endanger our health. While rats do not often have big scale effects in many places, they can bring disastrous outcomes to overcrowded cities like Chicago, where congested neighborhoods overflow with trash, which those furry but not-cute-at-all critters love.
The Chicagoans cannot bear it any longer. Chicago administration has already received more than 7,522 complaints in the first quarter of this year. This is 70% more than the recorded number in the first quarter of 2015, and more than 20% of the complaints in 2012. Even with these numbers, the Chicago administration does not have any idea how many rats they have in the city; nor are they able to determine how many residents have not tried calling to report rat sightings.
Mayor Rahm Emmanuel himself has acknowledged that rats are a real problem in the city as it affects the quality of life of the city’s residents. He has also expressed hope that the multiple ways his administration is devising will help solve the widespread rat problem.
Rat Infestation: What Gives?
How did Chicago get this problem? Surely it was not where the Pied Piper brought all those rats – we distinctly remember him luring those pesky rodents with his music and having them jump in the water to die. The people of Chicago could use some help from the Pied Piper, but until he materializes as a real life character with the uncanny power to play music and make the rats bend to his will, Chicagoans will have to grit their teeth, cross their fingers and hope that the measures the local government is taking will eventually curb their problem.
What causes a rat infestation? Let us look at the following triggers.
To survive, rats need three basic things: food, water and shelter. The rise in population in the city has brought about not-so-optimal living conditions, and with it, not-so-sanitary ways of living and, you guessed it, rats.
Another cause of rat infestation is animal feces. Some people tend to neglect cleaning up after their pet dogs during walks. Rats are highly attracted to dog waste, which is a source of food. But, this does not just go for dogs, as rats also like eating feces from other pets.
Winter in Chicago has been warm recently, making the city an agreeable place to stay for the rats, which usually meet not-so-pleasant deaths at the hands of harsh Chicago winters.
Construction and repairs are yet another reason for the rodent intrusion. Any city construction, which includes digging and burrowing, can upset the natural habitat of these rats, prompting them to come up and wreak havoc to the surface. Right now, the Department of Streets and Sanitation is analyzing areas where work needs to be done, so they could do rat abatement before they start any construction.
Solving the Rat Problem
There’s nothing one can do about mild winters and their effect on the rat population, but people can help the local administration in controlling the infestation through the following rat prevention tips.
- Keep foodstuffs in metal or glass containers with tight lids to keep rats from eating and contaminating them. Plastic containers are not advisable as rats can gnaw through them.
- Practice cleanliness in and around the house. Rats love clutter, which they can use for hiding in.
- Put properly sealed garbage bags in metal garbage bins with secure lids to keep rats from feeding off your trash and spreading clutter and germs.
- Keep your garden weed-free. Weeds can serve as shelter for rats and can sometimes double as a food source. There is also a city ordinance that encourages homeowners to do regular weeding.
- Store pet food in tightly-closed containers above ground level and always bring a dog poo bag so you do not have to pay the $50-$500 fine set by a new ordinance for owners who do not clean up after their pets that do their business in the street.
- Got a compost pit? Don’t include food waste in your heap so as not to attract the troublesome rodents.
- Immediately report any rat sightings by calling 311 so the local administration can quickly act on it through rat baiting and poisoning.
Of Cats and Coyotes
The Tree House Humane Society has a natural approach to the rat problem: the Cats at Work program, which sends out feral cats – sterilized, vaccinated and tagged with a microchip each –to requested homes, offices and other areas. So far, the response has been good. Not only do the cats kill rats on location; they also keep the rat population from growing. However, some residents argue that the cats are also killing other smaller animals like birds, rabbits, chipmunks and even insects.
The city is also looking at how coyotes, natural predators are common in Chicago, can help control the rat population.