Jump to content

Several big U.S. cities seeing surge in rodent complaints


Recommended Posts

Several big U.S. cities seeing surge in rodent complaints





The rat solution ?


Feral Cats





 Chicago has received more than 7,500 rat complaints from residents in 2016 so far, a five-year high for the first quarter. Some residents have a solution to their rat problems beyond the cities abatement tactics: feral cats.



CHICAGO— Some denizens of America’s great cities probably wouldn’t mind a visit from the Pied Piper right about now.


Several major U.S. cities—including Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.— have seen significant surges in rat complaints from their residents in recent months, according to city data reviewed by USA TODAY.


Grousing about rats has long been city-dweller sport, but the long-tailed, sharp-toothed nuisances have now become so populous and so aggressive that some cities are getting creative in their efforts to stay ahead of rodents even as some frustrated city residents are increasingly taking matters into their own hands.


In Chicago, which historically notches more rat complaints than any other city, resident reports of rodent activity rose by about 70% in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period last year.


With the city on pace to shatter the more than 41,000 complaints it received in 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently acknowledged in a radio interview that rats in the Windy City have become “a real problem.”


After several years of a scaled back rodent patrol in Chicago, the Emanuel administration announced this month it will bolster the number of technicians searching for burrows and laying poison from 18 technicians to 28 by next month.


The administration went on a community relations blitz, hanging doorknob leaflets that called on residents to do their part to eliminate food sources for rats by not overfilling dumpsters and cleaning up properly after their dogs.


To further drive home the getting tough-on-rats message, an ordinance recently introduced in Chicago’s city council makes it clear that homeowners who fail to keep their yards free of dog waste, garbage, or other materials that attract rodents could be find up to $500.The city also began requiring developers to include rat abatement plans as part of any new construction project.


Separately, the Chicago Transit Authority hopes to put an end to rat canoodling with a new bait that targets both male and female rat fertility. Rats reach sexual maturity within weeks after birth.


“We are being very, very aggressive in how we bait, so we can get control of the rodent population before summer gets here,” said Charles Williams, Chicago’s streets and sanitation department commissioner.


Boston touts itself as having one of the most innovative rat abatement programs in the country and historically gets fewer complaints than some of its bigger city counterparts. Still, complaints have nearly tripled in the first quarter of this year – a spike city officials there attribute to last year’s launching of a 311 system that makes it easier for Bostonians to call or use a phone app to report rats and other nuisance complaints to city officials.


The city's Inspectional Service Department tapped researchers from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to help launch a pilot program that uses dry ice to kill rats hiding in burrows in the city.


The dry ice, made of solid carbon dioxide, can be packed into the burrows where it asphyxiates the rats. City officials say it proved effective during their first month of testing, and the method has the added bonus of being less of a danger to humans and other animals than setting out poison.


And at about 50 cents per pound, the initial testing suggests dry ice might be a cheaper instrument for killing rats than rat poison, said Inspectional Service Department Commissioner William "Buddy" Christopher Jr.


Christopher said he’s “not extremely concerned” about the uptick thus far.


“I think our aggressive, pro-active stance is maintaining,” Christopher said. “Our staff stays on top of this. They’re constantly looking for new ways to deal with old problems.”


Washington, D.C., last year could boast of a four-year decline in rat complaints, but now the city is on pace to ruin its good news streak. If complaints continue at the same rate, the city will likely surpass last year’s mark of 2,004. Through April 15, the District’s Department of Health tallied 699 complaints.


The district's Department of Health said mild winters have been good for rodents, but the department insisted it was primed for battle.


“I can assure you that we are ready for them,” department spokesman Ivan Torres said in an email “The DOH is and will continue to strike hard.”


In New York, which has seen complaints to its 311 system soar over the last five years, there has been no relief. Rat complaints jumped by 39% in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period last year. The Big Apple's 311 system tallied more than 15,000 rodent complaints last year, compared to more than 10,600 in 2012.


And San Francisco, where complaints had stabilized over the last five years, now reports a modest increase in the number of rat complaints, so far this year compared to the same period of 2015.
William Tatum, a Chicago streets and sanitation worker,




Wrigley Field renovation has rats 'running rampant' in Chicago


All this gnawing, clawing and breeding means business is surging for Orkin, the major national pest control company. Rodent-related business was up 61% in Chicago from 2013 to 2015; 67% in Boston; 174% in San Francisco; 129% in New York City; and 57% in Washington, D.C.


In Chicago, where the prevalence of rats might be most pronounced, residents say the issue is frustrating.


Chicagoan Tim Jacobs told rodent control workers who were baiting burrows in the alley near his home in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood earlier this week that he often sees elderly residents feeding squirrels and pigeons bread crumbs. The older folks don’t take well to the suggestion that the left-behind crumbs could be fueling the rat problem, Jacobs said.


“In the alley here, I'll see them come in and out of the garbage cans,” Jacobs said. “A few times I've lifted the lids up and they've jumped out. It's startling.”


Josie Cruz, deputy commissioner for the city’s streets and sanitation department who was recently appointed to oversee the city’s blitz on rats, commiserates. Whether bread crumbs or a dog’s feces, those food sources lessen the chance that rats will take the poison bait her rat technicians pour down burrows every day in hopes of mitigating the problem.


“I can put out rodenticide (poison) every day in the burrows we find, but unless we cut off the food source….That’s like steak to a hot dog,” Cruz said. “They’re going to take that steak first.”




Louisiana is shrinking, thanks to giant swamp rats


With the addition of the new crews, the city's goal is to dispatch a rat abatement crew to bait an area within five days of receiving the complaint. The city has also turned to big data to try to predict just where they might find rat activity before it’s spotted by residents.


The city’s Department of Innovation and Technology found a likelihood of an increase in rodent complaints within a one week window in areas where residents made calls to 311 for some combination of 31 varied reasons. Most of the requests or complaints—such as requests for a dead animal pickup or a demolition inspection—are easier to correlate with surges in rodent activity.


But city’s analysts have also found that areas that make requests for block party permits and building code violations inside a structure have also proven to be predictive of rodent complaints.


The city hasn't got its head around why such there appears to be correlation between some of these more innocuous inputs, but the data has proven helpful in spotting rat problems, said Brenna Berman, Chicago's chief information officer.


"An academic researcher might want to dig into causes of these things," Berman said. "For the city's purposes, what we care about is making our rodent service as efficient and effective as possible. It's not to say we don't care why these things happen. We do care, but in the short term, the goal is making sure we're as effective and efficient with the funding that we have for rat baiting...We'll dig into those things later."


The problem of rat infestation has been broadly treated by municipalities as a public health issue—rats are vectors for hantavirus, salmonellosis and other diseases. But a recent study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health also found that the appearance of rats in low-income neighborhoods could also lead to increased incidents of depression.


In the survey of 448 low-income residents in Baltimore, according to the study published in the March issue of Journal of Community Psychology, those who reported that rats were a big problem where they lived were 72% more likely to experience acute depressive symptoms than those who live in similar low-income neighborhoods where rats were not seen as a big problem.




New York City Rat Complaints On The Rise


Cruz, the Chicago official who heads the city’s rodent control bureau, says the issue is one that plagues both rich and poor in big cities.


“The rats are there because they are feeding on something,” Cruz said. “They’re not there because they like the neighborhood. They are there because of the food source. If you cut off that food source, they’re going to eat rodenticide and you’re not going to have that problem.”


The city’s approach has left some frustrated.


In the city’s Lakeview neighborhood, Victoria Thomas made dozens of complaints to the city and spent a significant amount of her own cash on poison and trenching to try to stop an inundation of rats that were flooding her shared backyard behind her condo building.


Thomas and her neighbors kept a pristine yard—a treasure in the dense neighborhood where private green space is a rarity. But she said rats attracted by a neighboring building’s yard that was often covered by dog waste made their way into her shared spaced. She said overflowing dumpsters from nearby restaurants also contributed to the issue.


Soon after hitting her nadir—at one point a contractor found approximately 400 rats burrowed when he tried to trench the area between her yard and her neighbors' and another instance when she said a 311 call operator suggested she leave Chicago—Thomas decided to adopt feral cats.


“It was glorious,” said Thomas, who said the cats have made her yard usable again. “They stopped coming over. The (burrow) holes stopped opening up. I love the feral cats.”


While the cats have been effective, Thomas said that their work comes with a less than appealing byproduct: the occasional severed rat head or rodent heart that needs to be scooped out of the lawn.


That inconvenience, Thomas noted, beats living with live rats.










Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 1
  • Views 630
  • Created
  • Last Reply


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...