“Rodent complaints are not an accurate indicator of the rat population in an area…”, Chicago Dept. of Streets and Sanitation…
“It’s part of living in a city,” she said. “Even during the day, you’ll see them fly through the alley.”
The apartment search service RentHop named Chicago the “rat capital” of the country, based on the number of rat complaints last year in four major U.S. cities.
The study examined city data and found that 50,963 resident complaints were lodged in 2017, more than Boston (2,488 complaints), New York City (19,152 complaints) and Washington D.C. (5,036 complaints), other cities in which RentHop has a large presence.
When comparing the number of complaints based on population, Chicago still ranked higher than the others, with about 1,876 complaints per 100,000 residents, according to RentHop.
The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, however, said it actually received 42,670 requests for rodent abatement from residents in 2017. Officials say the smaller number weeds out duplicate complaints as well as a number of proactive rodent abatement cases initiated by the department.
Experts say conducting an accurate “rat census” is impossible, and the number of complaints doesn’t necessarily translate to more rats in a given area.
“Rodent complaints are not an accurate indicator of the rat population in an area, however they do show that Chicagoans care about the health and safety of their communities,” said Marjani Williams, spokeswoman for Streets and Sanitation, in a written statement. “(Streets and Sanitation) encourages residents to report rodent activity to 311 so that our crews can quickly investigate and address every sighting.”
Williams said Streets and Sanitation conducts preventative baiting in parks and alleys and sewers. Twenty-six crews are baiting citywide, and all rat-related requests for service are addressed in five days or less, she said. In 2016, the department began a pilot program to place dry ice into rodent burrows in parks or other green spaces to suffocate the rats.
The study found the neighborhoods with the highest volume of complaints were Logan Square, Englewood and West Ridge; areas with the least complaints included the Museum Campus, Millenium Park and Greektown, as well as more residential communities like Printers Row, Riverdale and Oakland.
Reports of rodent activity in Chicago seem to spike around summertime, according to the data.
Streets and Sanitation advises residents to keep trash contained in closed bins or dumpsters; never leave pet food uncovered outside; remove piles of debris; ensure pet waste is disposed in sealed containers; weed and throw away rotting vegetation from gardens; and maintain bird feeders.
Dr. Dylan Frederickson, veterinarian at Boulevard Veterinary in Logan Square, said he’s lived in other cities like Minneapolis and Madison, but has never experienced such a dense rat population before.
“I’ve never seen anything like the rat infestation that we have in Chicago,” he said.
He says about three to five times a summer he’ll treat a dog that’s been bitten by a rat; more concerning to canines is the risk of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can be contracted by drinking water contaminated by rat urine, and he recommends all dogs be vaccinated annually.
“It can cause acute kidney failure, which is sometimes fatal,” he said. “It’s relatively easy to prevent your dog from getting into a fight with a rat, it’s much more difficult to prevent them from taking a drink from a random puddle that might be contaminated.”
As for Rios-Sierra, she believes rats are a citywide concern and doesn’t know if Logan Square really has more than the rest of Chicago or if her neighbors are just more inclined to take action.
“People are more likely to complain and make an effort to remedy the problem,” she said.
Rios-Sierra says she’s never filed a rat complaint. Of all the issues residents contend with – immigration, housing inequities, education – she believes rodents are a lower priority.
“I believe people are facing things that are much bigger,” she said.
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