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
"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
"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
"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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