“I’ve seen rats so big you could put a saddle on them and ride them down the sidewalk,” said Steve Glinke, director of the Building, Planning and Zoning department in the village. Rat control falls under his department, so he and his staff are in charge of fielding calls from residents concerned about rodents.

Glinke doesn’t hate that rat control is his responsibility because, he said, it gets him outside, where he checks rat traps, looks for evidence of rat populations, and disposes of corpses residents can’t bring themselves to touch. In the back of his code enforcement car, he has a big bin filled with rat control products: traps, peanut butter, poison.

The village works with Smithereen, a pest control service that investigates populations around town and puts out bait stations, but Glinke does a lot of rat removal himself. Last year, after a big storm caused trees and branches to fall, blocking numerous streets, a flurry of Facebook posts mentioned Glinke out with his chainsaw, cutting branches and cleaning the streets.

But it’s the less glamorous things like rat duty that are probably really more heroic.

In the back yard of an uninhabited house on Roosevelt Road, he pointed out the holes leading to rat burrows along the sides of the garage. The burrows, he said, are extensive interconnected networks with multiple entryways and exits.

Between the garage and the house rats run back and forth so frequently that they’ve worn an obvious rodent-sized path in the grass. Two rat carcasses, practically just skeletons, lie alongside the path.

The next-door neighbor came outside. His back yard is clean, and he just replaced wood along the bottom of his deck. He’s worried that the rats will destroy it.

“I spend hundreds of dollars a month on rat control,” he said, holding up two large containers of rat-control product. “It’s like Saturday Night Fever over here, but every single night, with the rats just running back and forth.” He was laughing, but his concern is real. Rats aren’t just ugly; they’re destructive, able to chew through wire, wood and drywall. They can even chew through brick and uncured concrete.

Another neighbor two doors down came out and yelled thanks to Glinke.

“We’re doing the best we can,” he said.

The problem with that particular uninhabited house and others like it, said Glinke, is that the property is privately owned, in this case by a company out of state that only sends someone over for maintenance when forced to. Their grass gets overgrown. The house is vacant. The rats take over.

It’s property maintenance that’s the best defense against rats, Glinke said. So when a property is vacant and the owner or landlord absent, the village tries its best to enforce clean-up and compliance, and when they don’t get a response, they’re forced to step in.

Rats have long been a problem in Forest Park, like they are in many towns. And things got worse during COVID, said Glinke. For starters, in the interest of cutting budgets during a time of lean finances, Smithereen started coming out every two weeks instead of weekly. And second, with more people at home during the day, “there was an enormous spike in garbage generated from people at home,” said Glinke. Less rat control plus more garbage is heaven for rats.

Norway rats, the kind most seen locally, are highly adaptable. They forage for food and can live on almost anything. Smithsonian Zoo cited a study that revealed over 4,000 different items in the stomach of a single wild Norway rat. And they don’t limit themselves to what humans consider food.

“Dog shit is like caviar to rats,” said Glinke, repeating a sentiment he’d expressed to the Review during his last interview on the topic. “It’s basically partially digested dog food. They love that.”

Although rats can forage, they like to set up home close to a regular source of food. That might be a garbage can with a hole chewed in it, giving them easy access. It could be a compost pile. And they especially like to burrow into the ground along the sides of a garage, for example, when there are ample weeds and grass to provide cover.

In their extensive burrows, females reproduce regularly and year-round. Each female can have seven litters a year, and each litter has, on average, eight pups. Gestation takes about 22 to 24 days. A few months after birth, the new females reach sexual maturity and begin reproducing. It’s easy to see how the rat population can quickly get out of control.

Glinke said the village doesn’t mind fielding calls from residents who’ve seen rats on their property. But the village is limited on how much they can help a private residence in rat-control efforts. First, staff members aren’t licensed exterminators. And second, their role in maintaining private property is limited legally and financially.

Glinke recommends talking with neighbors if you have problems with rats. In at least one pocket of Forest Park, he said, neighbors have organized an unofficial rat-control group for their own block, regularly providing assistance to one another on keeping weeds and shrubs trimmed and alleys cleaned to avoid problems with rodents and communicating about their efforts.

And on the south side of town, a feral cat population seems to do a good job keeping the rat population under control. Oak Park’s Animal Care League has a Trap, Neuter, Release program that, according to the organization’s website, will be back up and running soon.

Forest Park does not have an official feral cat program, but the City of Chicago has been taking advantage of cats to help control their rat problem.

According to Treehouse Humane Society, their Cats At Work program has released 1,000 cats into Chicago neighborhoods since 2012, placing about 10 to 15 feral cats each month. The organization vaccinates and spays or neuters cats that wouldn’t do well living in a home and releases them back into the city.

“Cats are placed two or three at a time into residential or commercial settings. Often, they’re brought in to provide environmentally friendly rodent control. Property and business owners provide food, water, shelter, and wellness to the cats who ‘work’ for them,” reads the Treehouse website.

To be clear, Forest Park hasn’t advocated managed feral cat communities. But Glinke brought them up in a recent budget meeting while talking about increasing rat control expenses.

“Those cats are pretty gangster,” Glinke said.

A link to information on rats from the village is available here: forestpark.net/dfp/departments/health-safety/. The department of health and safety can be reached at 708-615-6276.

Glinke’s tips on rats

 Glinke provided the following tips to residents concerned about rats:

  • Call the village if you’re concerned. A staff member can visit to give you tips on rat-proofing your yard and home. The number for the Department of Building, Planning and Zoning is 708-615-6276.
  • Rats look for reliable sources of food. Don’t put out bird feeders, or if you do, make sure you sweep up stray seed regularly. If you have dogs, pick up their poop right away. Rats eat that. Again, caviar. Compost should be secured in a rodent-proof container.
  • If your garbage can has holes in it or is damaged in any way, call the village at 708-366-2323 for a replacement.
  • Keep your outdoor area well maintained. Mow grass regularly. Don’t allow weeds or dense shrubbery to grow, especially against the sides of buildings where rats like to burrow.
  • Don’t take or move rat stations you see in alleys. Smithereen places them strategically around town.
  • In an arrangement with Smithereen, residents can pay for a three-visit rat-control service for $150, which Glinke said is a good deal. Call 708-615-6276 for more information.