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from The Chicago Tribune


City set to tackle weighty rat issue

Lawndale under siege by rodents the size of cats

By Amy E. Nevala
Tribune staff reporter

October 27, 2002

Chicago officials vowed to take quick action this week to help Lawndale residents rid their yards and homes of "rats the size of cats," but they warned that neighbors would have to work together to keep the vermin out.

"If a rat has a choice between a greasy chicken bone and a green poison pellet, he's choosing the chicken bone," Ald. Michael Chandler (24th) told residents of the West Side neighborhood during a two-hour community meeting Thursday. "Rats get to be the size of cats when there is a lot of garbage left around for them to eat."

Neighbors said that Lawndale, like all parts of the city, has had its share of rats. But they said the area is under siege by large brown, black and gray rats that were stirred up this year when construction began on the CTA's Blue Line near the Central Park station.

And they complain that city officials aren't paying serious attention to the rat problem, which they fear will be exacerbated by the cold weather.

"We've always had rats but not like this," Lawndale resident James Taylor told officials, adding that he bought bait and traps to combat it. "Over the summer I was catching 8 to 10 a night. Big ones, 3 or 4 pounders."

"It's ridiculous that I have to wait for a rat to mosey pass before I can leave my house," said Cynthia Harris, who lives several doors away from Taylor in the 2200 block of South Central Park. "I have to scan the ground to make sure there isn't a rat waiting for me. They aren't afraid when I stomp my feet. They aren't afraid when I honk my horn. My children are mistaking rats in the bushes for cats."

Marie Hammond, a mother of four, said she felt like she lived in a "horror show" before finally moving to escape the rats, which occasionally ventured indoors. "Sometimes it brought tears to my eyes because my children were afraid to go to the washroom at night," she said. "It's not that we're filthy or dirty."

Two decades ago, more than 6 million rats roamed Chicago, said city Streets and Sanitation Department spokesman Matt Smith. Years of baiting the area with rat poison--and tens of thousands of garbage containers provided free by the city to reduce the availability of the rodents' food supply--culled the population to fewer than 500,000, he said. Though construction projects can trigger rat activity, he said overflowing garbage containers, junk-filled lots and dog droppings sustain the rodents.

Even so, Smith said Lawndale's rat problem is not dramatically worse than those of other Chicago neighborhoods.

"Rats transcend income, race or geographical position in the city," he said. "We find it a problem wherever garbage is not properly contained."

He stressed that the city will log complaints from residents who phone 311 and then will address them by baiting the area or bringing residents additional garbage containers, if requested.

But residents will need to help solve the rat problem, he said.

"Most of the time, it's kids just throwing the garbage in the alley or over the fence that attracts the rats," said Odessa Stribling, deputy commissioner of the city's Bureau of Rodent Control.

Stribling said that within a week technicians will be sent to survey the Lawndale neighborhood, from West 16th Street to West Cermak Road and from South Hamlin to South Homan Avenues.

"We'll examine garbage carts that need replacing, alleys that need to be cleaned up, and we'll look for abandoned garages that need to be torn down," she said. "We're looking for any rat harborages."

John Dalton, a senior manager for CTA's capital construction project, said the CTA responds to complaints about rats stirred up by construction, but the agency waits for residents to ask for help with abatement. Now that they are aware of the concerns, he said, CTA officials will work with the city and the ward's alderman to bait new areas before CTA construction starts there.

"We'll canvass the area and kill the rodents before they head into the neighborhood," Dalton said. "We want to do what we can to assist."

Dalton and other city officials agreed to return to a meeting Nov. 21 in Lawndale to update their progress.

Taylor, who has lived in the 2000 block of South Central Park for 40 years, declared war on the rats after they began interrupting quiet evenings spent on his porch.

"It's embarrassing to sit out at night with friends and see the fellows running in and out," he said.

Taylor has become somewhat of the neighborhood rat expert. He encourages friends to lure the rats to blue blocks of poison using cheddar cheese spread and creamy peanut butter.

He also is happy to show off his "rat cemetery," a weed-covered spot next to his garage. He estimates that 10 rats are buried there.

"I don't give them headstones," he said.

Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune


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