Rat population grows in Forest Park

Residents can have the biggest impact on reducing rodents

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By Maria Maxham

The rat population in Forest Park has recently increased, causing the Department of Public Health and Safety to step up efforts to reduce rodents in the area. Forest Park-related Facebook groups have hosted active discussions about this topic, with comments ranging from "Village of Forest Park, your rat breeding program is going swimmingly" to suggestions about how to reach residents to educate them about the problem.

Rats are, subjectively speaking, kind of creepy. They come out at dusk, skulking around the edges of your yard or running through the alley, their eyes glowing in the glare of your car's headlights. They destroy property and can spread disease through the fleas and lice they carry. In fact, in Los Angeles some experts warn that uncontrolled rat populations may bring back medieval diseases like the Bubonic plague and leprosy.

Their creepiness is exceeded only by their hardiness. According to the city of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation fact sheet on Norway rats, "They can crawl through holes the size of a quarter, tread water for three days and land unharmed after a five-story fall."

Norway rats also reproduce extremely rapidly. Female rats as young as two or three months old can be impregnated and can produce up to seven litters a year, each litter containing 8-12 pups. 

These unwelcome critters have recently become a bigger-than-normal problem in Forest Park, with a corresponding increase in calls to the Department of Health and Public Safety. 

Steve Glinke, director of Public Health and Safety, said the "hot area" for rats in Forest Park right now is south of the expressway on the east end of the town, though he noted the rats have been pushing west. 

Forest Park uses the exterminator Smithereen Pest Control, which used to come out biweekly to treat hot spots for rats. As of last week, they're now coming out weekly as reports from residents rise.

The traps set by Smithereen are a combination of bait and snap traps. 

"Rats can acclimate to the poison," said Glinke. "A combination trap works best."

Glinke also reported that there have been incidents of people moving or stealing the traps, and he urges residents to leave them where they are. 

Why are there more rats than usual in Forest Park? People are often under the incorrect assumption that restaurants and abandoned properties are the source of rat problems.

But restaurants in town are required to have their own extermination services, and the village night-sweeper vehicle cleans up spilled grease to keep food that attract rats to a minimum. Restaurant owners are also required to maintain their properties and back areas. When the Forest Park Review drove down alleys behind restaurants, the properties viewed were well maintained and clean.

Abandoned properties also aren't typically good places for rats to hole up and start colonies because there generally aren't dedicated food or water sources on these properties, something rats look for when choosing a place to colonize.

The village helps residents who call by investigating for signs of rat infestations and marking utility poles so Smithereen knows where to set out traps. 

These traps should not be moved or touched, and children and pets should be kept away from them.

The biggest culprit when it comes to increasing rat populations in town? Improperly maintained private property.

Glinke says property owners need to take steps to prevent rats from taking up residence in the first place. Rats eat almost any kind of food, and they really like pet waste. Picking up regularly after your dogs, especially in the evening, is a good way to ensure that rats won't have anything in your yard to feed on overnight. 

Keeping dumpsters and trash cans securely closed is important because rats can chew through plastic bags. 

Overgrown plants and weeds provide hiding places for rodents, as do wood piles, lumber, litter, old boxes and junk in the yard.

Glinke urges all homeowners to follow the instructions put forth by the village to eliminate rats in the neighborhood. He also plans to work with Smithereen before winter to send out a mass mailing to residents about the problem and to do block-by-block surveillance to look for problem areas and advise residents on making their properties as rat-resistant as possible.

Rats can be detected by droppings or signs of freshly gnawed surfaces. Rat burrows will typically be found at building foundations, under steps or piles of debris, beneath low shrubs, or along sidewalks. The entrance hole will be about 2 inches wide with a mound of soil next to it.

Residents can learn more by reading the fact sheet, "Rats in Our Community," from the Department of Public Health and Safety at bit.ly/2nkOUuE or pick one up at village hall.

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Reader Comments

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Amy Binns-Calvey  

Posted: October 7th, 2019 4:03 PM

I was so hoping Terriers would be a solution! (I heard a fascinating story on the radio about dog owners organizing supervised "hunts" in NYC alleys.) Neighbors should also make sure bird feeders don't spread seeds on the ground, it's like an open buffet for them. If we all get on the same page, maybe we can make a dent.

Leonard De Joy  

Posted: October 6th, 2019 9:45 PM

We have rats on our block. I have a Terrier and still find rat droppings on my back porch. My dog hunts the mice in the house as well as tries to chase the rabbits and squirrels on our daily walks. Too many residents don't properly secure their garbage receptacles as well as leave garbage bags outside in the freezing weather. While the trash may not smell in the Winter it also attracts the rats in the area. The rat traps placed by garbage receptacles need to be monitored on a regular basis.

Julieta Cristina Aguilera Rodríguez  

Posted: October 6th, 2019 8:43 AM

When the article says that pet poo is a problem, I think it needs to clearly spell out that this includes cats. As a resident of about twenty years, the years I most se rodents (mice, squirrels, etc), is after the most cats are let out or are abandoned. Rodents enjoy predigested food, so having cats roaming about act as food attractants for the rodents. I have observed up to 8 different cats in a day in my yard on a year that had the most mice and squirrels all the way to the end, no decrease of rodents. I only saw cats eating birds, which is quite an environmental problem on top of all this. Most animal advocate institutions now ask cat owners to keep them indoors and discourage feral cat populations. I too think that cat lovers need to pull resources together to create cat sanctuaries to take feral cats instead of pushing them to the streets where they do not belong since they are not native to our nearby forests. Lastly, some local people still think that leaving pet poo (cat and dog poo) in their yards will scare away mice. That, together with the false idea that having cats around will help decrease the rat population, need to be addressed clearly, and I hope the Forest Park Review can do better next time in doing so. My backyard is not the toilet of other people's pets.

Amy Binns-Calvey  

Posted: October 4th, 2019 12:56 PM

Sadly, research has found that feral cats don't decrease the rate population. "But on the other side we have to realize that cats had almost no impact on the population of the rats," Parsons said. Meanwhile, feral cats can kill native species, resulting in a less healthy ecosystem, he said. We need terrier dogs! https://wildlife.org/rats-feral-cats-fail-at-urban-rodent-control/

George Glass from Chicago  

Posted: October 3rd, 2019 9:01 AM

Tree House Humane Society has a program called Cats at Work where they take feral cat and place them with people that want them to control the rat problem. The cats work like nothing else out there to kill rats because they have predator pheromones. It's been proven that rats and predators will not share the same territory. The people that adopt the cats get to solve their rat problem and get to save the lives of feral cats that are destined to be euthanized because they are unsuitable to be house pets.

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